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Power Space The Military

Pentagon Urges Space-Based Solar Power 552

Posted by kdawson
from the let-the-beam-me-down-jokes-begin dept.
eldavojohn writes "The Pentagon issued a report indicating that space-based solar power 'has the potential to help the United States stave off climate change and avoid future conflicts over oil by harnessing the Sun's power to provide an essentially inexhaustible supply of clean energy.' The report, from the Pentagon's National Security Space Office, calls for funding the development of space-based solar power culminating in 'a platform in geosynchronous orbit bigger than the international space station and capable of beaming 5-10 megawatts of power to a receiving station on the ground.' The Pentagon's interest in such an effort stems from the need to acquire energy on the battlefield, which today often comes at a painful premium."
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Pentagon Urges Space-Based Solar Power

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  • by BWJones (18351) * on Sunday October 14, 2007 @06:55PM (#20976951) Homepage Journal
    Sooo..... would this mean that the Pentagon could *bogart* all of the power when needed, or reduce power generation at critical times? This is one of the principal complaints about the GPS system as currently structured. There is no doubt that the GPS system has revolutionized much of the developed world and I am not criticizing that. On the contrary, I am just pointing out a possible criticism. After all, if the Pentagon (US government) plays its cards right, this could be a way to ensure that Gap Nations can be provided power to help them integrate into the Economic Core. (brilliant background on theory of Gap Nations and Economic core here [thomaspmbarnett.com]).

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MBraynard (653724)
      this mean that the Pentagon could *bogart* all of the power when needed

      They can do this now (with the civilian president's executive authority), it's just terribly inefficient to do so.

      And it's doubtful that they ever would turn off everyone's power - particularly since they haven't so far.

      • by reporter (666905) on Sunday October 14, 2007 @09:04PM (#20977761) Homepage
        One organization that rivals the influence of the military industrial complex (of which the Department of Defense is a piece) is the farm lobby (also known as the agri-business lobby). If the farm lobby -- or, more specifically, the pro-ethanol corn lobby in the midwest -- opposes the solar-power idea in favor of ethanol, will the government still build an orbiting solar-power transmitter?

        My hunch is that the answer is "no". Even though Brazilian sugar-cane-based ethanol is much cheaper than American corn-based ethanol, Washington levies such a huge tariff on the former that it is more expensive than the latter. The whole point is to placate the angry American farmer.

        An effort that favors any alternative fuel source besides corn is sure to run afoul of the farm lobby. Isn't Iowa one of the earliest primary states?

        Oh yeah. Coca-Cola, long ago, dumped sugar in favor of corn syrup in the soft drinks. A tariff here and there sure can change the economics of life.

        • by Xonstantine (947614) on Sunday October 14, 2007 @10:59PM (#20978661)

          The whole point is to placate the angry American farmer.
          You mispelled "Archer Daniels Midland".
          • You're absolutely right. The angry, America farmers I know are angry about the subsidies being used to drive them out of business. (This might be partly due to their unwillingness to take the subsidies for themselves. These farmers do not necessarily represent an accurate sample.)
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          1. The military has more political might than the farmers.

          2. Coca-Cola only dumped sugar in your country, in most of the rest of the world it still tastes good.
    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday October 14, 2007 @07:01PM (#20976985) Journal
      That's an excellent point.

      Worse yet is something that didn't make it past the editing in my submission of this summary. I read around and it seems like a lot of people think that this budget for such an expensive extensive project would almost certainly be cut from any other alternative energy sources.

      In my opinion, our defense spending is already through the roof, this could be a political move to put something powerful in space and get the money from alternative energy spending (or at least under the guises of it). Maybe my tin foil hat is on too tight but a lot of news sources were saying that this could drain and/or draw attention away from other just as valid efforts at escaping the grip of fossil fuels.

      Like everyone's been saying, our solution to these problems of dependence on the middle east & emissions is going to be a host of different solutions specific to different areas. I fear that the funding and attention will go into this and we'll have all our eggs in one basket ... a basket owned by and controlled by the DoD.
      • by sumdumass (711423)
        Good thing we havn't listened to your opinion too closely. Not that it isn't valuable, but I just don't think it is correct.

        But to the point, I don't see why this isn't just built into existing military budgets. Either tacked on with extra funding or shoved into existing weapons systems development and effectively replace development on some of the older non stuff this type of device is expected to replace.

        If they do it correctly, they could probably sell it and recoup any initial expense over the long run
        • by IWannaBeAnAC (653701) on Sunday October 14, 2007 @07:56PM (#20977365)
          Recoup the initial expense? Launch something bigger than the ISS into geosynchronous orbit (26,000 miles, compared with the ISS orbit of about 210 miles), for a measly 10 megawatts? You were kidding, right?
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by sumdumass (711423)
            Well, it won't be that size when it is launched, If we go with an inflatable design, it could probably be pilled into on launch and we don't even need to include jack screws or mechanisms like that to extend it.

            In my area, the average cost of energy for 2007 was around $65/megawatt on the open exchange market. Multiply this by 10 megawatts and then by the 15 hours of good sunlight (there would be likely more usable sunlight) and you would have about $9700 or so per day during Peak hours. Then consider this
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ScrewMaster (602015)
        I read around and it seems like a lot of people think that this budget for such an expensive extensive project would almost certainly be cut from any other alternative energy sources.

        That's not necessarily a bad thing, given that the United States Federal Government's alternative fuel of choice is ethanol from corn. If the development of space-going solar power arrays takes funding from the corn subsidies and the billions of dollars being spent on ethanol production facilities, I'm all for it. This is a
    • by navtal (943711) on Sunday October 14, 2007 @07:07PM (#20977011)
      Or they could direct the megawatt beam at things other then a power collector.....
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by LWATCDR (28044)
      Hate to tell you this but the military already can and has done it in the past. Energy was rationed during WWII. The thing is what everybody seems to forget is that the US military is under control of the civilian government. No matter what the tin hat brigade wants to think. Your comments about the GPS system is interesting. GPS exists only because the military paid for the development, and the deployment of it. Comercial and civialain users are in fact getting a free ride on the military budget for this.
    • by drgould (24404) on Sunday October 14, 2007 @07:51PM (#20977315)
      Sooo..... would this mean that the Pentagon could *bogart* all of the power when needed, or reduce power generation at critical times?

      This is only proof of concept, 5 or 10 megawatts is a drop in the bucket for commercial or military use. Heck, there are operating 5 megawatt wind generators.

      The point is that somebody should at least try to demonstrate the feasibility (or infeasibility) of space-based solar power stations, and NASA isn't going to do it so who else is there?

      The important thing is to develop the technology and techniques to build solar power stations. Once we have those, commercial power companies can just contract out to Boeing or Lockheed to have them built. But it's developing the technology and techniques that are critical.

      It's like the Navy is funding Dr. Bussard's Polywell [wikipedia.org] project. The Navy can ostensively use it for powering naval vessels, but once (if!) it works, the technology will be available for commercial use. The military has a long history of sponsoring R&D that has dual military and commercial uses.

      After all, if the Pentagon (US government) plays its cards right, ...

      I'm curious, do you have any examples of the US "playing its cards right" in any foreign policy matters?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Xonstantine (947614)

        I'm curious, do you have any examples of the US "playing its cards right" in any foreign policy matters?
        Sure, the Louisiana Purchase and the purchase of Alaska!
    • We're talking about 4MW of electricity, which is pathetic for a modern power station.

      To put that into perspective, that would barely power a single train.

       
  • Right... (Score:5, Funny)

    by benhocking (724439) <benjaminhockingNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Sunday October 14, 2007 @06:55PM (#20976953) Homepage Journal
    Because I can't imagine any other military application behind beaming 5-10 megawatts of power to a focused location...
    • Re:Right... (Score:5, Funny)

      by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday October 14, 2007 @07:01PM (#20976983) Homepage

      Because I can't imagine any other military application behind beaming 5-10 megawatts of power to a focused location...

      No, no, no. This is the NEW Pentagon. They're here to help developing countries. If they need some power, we'll give it to them.

      Oh, and sorry about the little incident where we fried your communications infrastructure. We'll help with that, too. Just got a few bugs in the system. Complicated technology and all that.

    • by pokerdad (1124121)

      Because I can't imagine any other military application behind beaming 5-10 megawatts of power to a focused location...

      Yes, but this comes with plausible deniability; until the day they actually fire on someone the US can tell any other nation that complains (and many nations are against the weaponisation of space)that in fact they are not putting huge lasers up there as weapons, they are just "power generators".

    • Re:Right... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jstomel (985001) on Sunday October 14, 2007 @09:33PM (#20977993)
      I'm not an expert in power transmission, but if I recall correctly any transmission method capable of punching through our atmosphere would have to be relatively inert with respect to actual human beings. Probably radio or low frequency microwaves. You could probably fry a city's electronics with it, but actually harming people would be difficult.
    • by Mahjub Sa'aden (1100387) <msaaden@gmail.com> on Sunday October 14, 2007 @09:45PM (#20978071)
      And weapons. The energisation of space will be accompanied by the militarisation thereof. No question. If there is a critical asset in orbit, something that the USA can simply not afford to lose, it will be protected. Even if this space-based power isn't a feasible weapon in its own right (and I can't really see, from any descriptions I've read online, how it could be), it will be protected. And critical orbital assets will be protected from space. There's no other good way to do it.

      This is one of the reasons the US military is interested in space-based power. One of the many, of course. Providing troops with power is a benefit. The militarisation of space, the extension into earth's orbit of US control, is a benefit. It's an exercise for the reader to decide which is a tangential benefit, and which is primary.
  • 5-10 Megawatts? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Sunday October 14, 2007 @06:56PM (#20976955) Homepage
    You've got to be kidding, that's going to end the energy crisis? Scale it up about 10,000x, maybe.
  • The USA will have power after the 2012 poll switch I hope we also have free health care by then as well.
    • Re:USA USA USA (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SnowZero (92219) on Sunday October 14, 2007 @07:10PM (#20977035)
      Free as in taxes, right?
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by mrmojo (841397)
        That's exactly right - that way it's free for poor people. As unpopular as it is in the US, redistribution of wealth is a hallmark of civilization worldwide.
        • Re:USA USA USA (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Colin Smith (2679) on Sunday October 14, 2007 @08:06PM (#20977425)
          Right...

          Which is why the government & banks pump 10-14% more money into the economy every year, causing the stock market and property markets to rise exponentially and thereby moving value away from those who only have cash in the bank and CPI limited salary rises to those who own assets and stocks.

          Do you have any idea what you're talking about?
      • by Colin Smith (2679)
        Yup. At the point of a gun.
  • Doesn't sound like much to me. Might be enough to run the 'critical national interests', but the rest of us will be sitting in the dark without heat.
  • Life imitates art (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Daishiman (698845) on Sunday October 14, 2007 @06:59PM (#20976975)
    Do you remember SimCity 2000 when you could build an orbital solar power station that could potentially misalign and burn down half the city? Fun times.
    In practice, it'd be a piece of cake to implement a safeguard against that.
  • by Cyberax (705495) on Sunday October 14, 2007 @06:59PM (#20976977)
    5-10Mw is the power output of _one_ _small_ power plant. Typical nuclear power plants output hundreds megawatts of power.

    However, a nice focused microwave ray can literally bake people without (much) damage to property.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Typical nuclear power plants output hundreds megawatts of power.
      Typical nuclear power plants output thousands megawatts of power, per reactor .
  • Direct Report Link (Score:5, Informative)

    by AugustZephyr (989775) on Sunday October 14, 2007 @07:03PM (#20976991)
    Warning: this is a 3.5MB PDF.

    SBSB Interim Assessment [nss.org]
  • Dupe (Score:3, Informative)

    by Goonie (8651) <robert DOT merkel AT benambra DOT org> on Sunday October 14, 2007 @07:08PM (#20977021) Homepage
    Previous story here [slashdot.org], which also notably mentioned the process by which the report was developed (hint: it might be a familiar one to Linux users).
  • by haakondahl (893488) on Sunday October 14, 2007 @07:10PM (#20977031)
    I'm going to laugh myself unconscious when the United States Military solves the problem of clean, renewable energy for the world. Take that, hippies! Muahahahahaaaaa!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nacturation (646836)

      I'm going to laugh myself unconscious when the United States Military solves the problem of clean, renewable energy for the world. Take that, hippies! Muahahahahaaaaa!
      And with a vast enough array of collectors blocking the sunlight, they could also solve global warming.
       
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by aliquis (678370)
        Uhm, but using up energy which came from space here will probably heat stuff... So no ;)

        Bring up the dyson spheres already.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by earlymon (1116185)
      In the circle concerned with DoD and DOE funding debates, the Air Force guys used to have a saying:

      If you gave the fusion project to us, four guys would be in prison for fraud, the taxpayers would have been bilked out out of several hundred million dollars, the project would be two years late - with mods on top of that - and we'd all be driving Mr. Fusions by now!

      That was in the late 80s - twenty years ago.

      Lot of truth to that way of thinking.....

      ---
      Over thirty means near-recent history.
  • Stupid! (Not) (Score:2, Insightful)

    by wonkavader (605434)
    We have the morons at Homeland Security telling us to be afraid of anything at ALL, no matter how impossible or silly, and at the opposite end, the morons at the Pentagon who want to put an incredibly expensive target into space which their soldiers will depend on and which can be cheaply taken out by anyone with access to what the commercialization of space folks have learned in the past decade (and will in the next).

    So what this will need, in order to work, is Star Wars missile defense, which is in troubl
    • by Dunbal (464142)
      the morons at the Pentagon who want to put an incredibly expensive target into space which their soldiers will depend on and which can be cheaply taken out by anyone with access to what the commercialization of space folks have learned in the past decade

            As far as I know Ahmed hasn't figured out how to get a car-bomb into geosynchronous orbit yet.
  • by Cracked Pottery (947450) on Sunday October 14, 2007 @07:12PM (#20977055)
    It takes the military to come up with a REALLY stupid idea. We can develop better solar cells, or improve battery technology, or maybe put up more wind energy farms, but why not put the solar cells in space and beam the power down in focused beams with some sort of Buck Rogers scheme that has never been developed or tested and would probably, if it could work at all and not just be a cover for spending for a space weapons platform, be much more vulnerable to attack by potential adversary countries with access to space, e.g. the Russians or the Chinese. God save us from these morons.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by darkmeridian (119044)
      If you're cynical enough to believe that the military is using this as an excuse to develop high-powered lasers, or potentially a space-based death ray, then why do you also say that it's a really "stupid" idea? By your thesis, it's a good but *evil* idea.
      • My bad, I forgot to turn on the irony light. I basically distrust military solutions for what is essentially a civilian problem, that is developing alternative energy sources. I figure that such a beam would destroy an aircraft that crossed it. While receivers could be moved to provide energy to the battlefield, it's not a practical solution to ordinary peacetime energy requirements. And like the so-called missile defense, it is basically an idiotic idea. In the case of the Star Wars system, it might be wor
    • by Atario (673917)
      I seems like a perfectly reasonable solution to one of the big worries over standard solar arrays: land use. These use a fraction of the land a standard array would use.
  • by Koreantoast (527520) on Sunday October 14, 2007 @07:17PM (#20977083)
    Yes, this initial version doesn't generate a lot of power, but if the military were to actually go through with this plan, it would absorb the initial R&D costs to take orbital solar platforms from scribbles on the back of a cocktail napkin to a real, working prototype. Once the process is proven, then it would be a much smaller economic risk for the private sector to transition the technology to the civilian sector and expand capacity. Very few entities in the United States, let alone the globe, have deep enough pockets to absorb the immense financial risk and ready access to the limited pools of specialized aerospace engineering talent required as the United States military. Personally, I would rather have the military spending money on technology that has civilian benefits instead of buying yet another set of nuclear weapons.
  • He then went back to stroking his pussy, safe in the knowledge that his giant space laser would deal with Mr Bond.
  • I, Robot (Score:2, Interesting)

    by lipi (142489)
    Obligatory Asimov reference: http://scifipedia.scifi.com/index.php/I,_Robot_(Book) [scifi.com]

    "Reason" (1941)--Powell and Donovan are assigned to an energy station--it gathers solar energy, and then sends that energy, via a focused beam, to Earth. (...) QT-1 banishes the humans from the beam control room. This worries Powell and Donovan, because a storm is approaching, and it could deflect the energy beam, destroying a good portion of the Earth."
  • by imsabbel (611519) on Sunday October 14, 2007 @07:23PM (#20977123)
    is such a perfect euphemism. Those insurgents better get some suntan factor 2000 if our space ray starts delivering :)

    All jokes aside, this concept isnt really useful for general energy production until we can decrease the cost of delivering stuff into orbit by at least 2 orders of magnitude.

    And cost doesnt mean $, but also energy. People still believe the myth that solar cells dont yield their production energy cost in their lifetime. Thats not true for 2 decades now, but getting the stuff into orbit adds a huge factor in the total energy balance.
  • Solar power satellites aren't a new idea. I first encountered the concept in high school when I read Robert Zubrin's "The Case for Mars". We already have the tech (and we may have in fact constructed, although I dunno) for microwave power receivers, and the studies that have been done have shown that it's a pretty safe way to move power around. While it's in its microwave form, there's almost zero effect on anything that crosses in between the transmitter and receiver, including wildlife. It's cheap, it
  • by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Sunday October 14, 2007 @07:35PM (#20977199)
    Do the math. To loft a 10-Kg solar panel into orbit takes about 100 Kg of fuel, or 4.2 x 10^9 Joules. If it's 10 meters squared in area, it's going to generate about 10KW. Assume a conversion efficiency of 60%, it's 6KW, or 6K joules/second. Assume a wildly optimistic 30% collection rate, and we have 1800 watts delivered to the ground.

    It would have to run for about two years just to collect as much energy as it took to loft it. Not to mention the cost and weight of the downlink equipment.

    Then to recover the launch costs, that's never going to happen.

    • by QuantumRiff (120817) on Sunday October 14, 2007 @08:22PM (#20977523)
      Hmm.. Just how long does it take to recover the cost of building a terrestrial power station? I seem to remember a $25Million dollar gas power plant built just out side my town. They generate about $8Million a year selling power, which they have to pay for gas, employees, and the construction costs.. Of course, we're ignoring the cost of about $3Billion for the western power grid that it hooks into...(since were not mentioning the cost of downlink equipment, seems fair to not include the cost of distribution)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by hrvatska (790627)
      Assume a wildly optimistic 30% collection rate, and we have 1800 watts delivered to the ground.
      I don't know if the report is correct, but it claims that almost all of the beamed energy could be absorbed by the ground based collectors. I don't know if absobed necessarily means converted to usable electricity, though. From page 29 of the report:

      Unlike terrestrial solar facilities, microwave receiving rectennas allow greater than 90% of ambient light to pass through, but absorb almost all of the beamed ene

  • Not a bad idea (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MetricT (128876) on Sunday October 14, 2007 @07:35PM (#20977217) Homepage
    The military has a problem. They need a lot of power for computers, communications, all the conveniences of modern warfare. *But*, they often work far away from any established (or reliable) infrastructure.

    Space-based power would be a tremendous gain. Setting up base in a remote corner of Iran to perform Intel? No problem. Spaceman Spiff justs adjusts the microwave transmitter from the orbital solar array, and you get instant power.

    I haven't thought through all the implications, but I can see substantial military advantages in something like this.
  • by sizzzzlerz (714878) on Sunday October 14, 2007 @07:41PM (#20977251)
    Your tax dollars -> Pentagon -> (Boeing, Lockheed, General Dynamics) -> Budget over-runs, late or no deliveries, CEOs even richer than before -> Your tax dollars down the toilet.

    Been there. Done that.
  • The Pentagon's National Security Space Office is pushing for "space-based solar power". If you are skeptical you should be. Every service, office and agency will push that their respective organization can deliver the latest and greatest most vital technologies, services and personnel so that they can have a large piece of the pie (especially as the fiscal year draws to a close!). This shouldn't surprise anyone.
  • by itsybitsy (149808) on Monday October 15, 2007 @12:46AM (#20979225)
    Woops, you made an error of three orders of magnitude, that's five to ten gigawatts not megawatts.

    From the report.
    http://www.nss.org/settlement/ssp/library/final-sbsp-interim-assessment-release-01.pdf [nss.org]

    Typical reference designs involved a satellite in geostationary orbit, several kilometers on a side, that used photovoltaic arrays to capture the sunlight, then convert it into radio frequencies of 2.45 or 5.8 GHz where atmospheric transmission is very high, that were then beamed toward a reference signal on the Earth at intensities approximately 1/6th of noon sunlight. The beam was then received by a rectifying antenna and converted into electricity for the grid, delivering 5 - 10 gigawatts of electric power.

    The Sun is a giant fusion reactor, conveniently located some 150 million km from the Earth, radiating 2.3 billion times more energy than what strikes the disk of the Earth, which itself is more energy in a hour than all human civilization directly uses in a year, and it will continue to produce free energy for billions of years.

    You gotta like that. The SUN is conveniently located!

    The basic idea is very straightforward: place very large solar arrays into continuously and intensely sunlit Earth orbit (1,366 watts/m2) , collect gigawatts of electrical energy, electromagnetically beam it to Earth, and receive it on the surface for use either as baseload power via direct connection to the existing electrical grid, conversion into manufactured synthetic hydrocarbon fuels, or as low - intensity broadcast power beamed directly to consumers. A single kilometer - wide band of geosynchronous earth orbit experiences enough solar flux in one year to nearly equal the amount of energy contained within all known recoverable conventional oil reserves on Earth today. This amount of energy indicates that there is enormous potential for energy security, economic development, improved environmental stewardship, advancement of general space faring, and overall national security for those nations who construct and possess a SBSP capability.

    A single kilometer - wide band of geosynchronous earth orbit experiences enough solar flux in one year (approximately 212 terawatt - years) to nearly equal the amount of energy contained within all known recoverable conventional oil reserves on Earth today (approximately 250 TW-yrs). The enormous potential of this resource demands an examination of mankind's ability to successfully capture and utilize this energy within the context of today's technology, economic, and policy realities, as well as the expected environment within the next 25 years. Study of space-based solar power (SBSP) indicates that there is enormous potential for energy security, economic development, advancement of general space faring, improved environmental stewardship, and overall national security for those nations who construct and possess such a capability.

    Let's get it done!!!
  • by Sfing_ter (99478) on Monday October 15, 2007 @09:22AM (#20981945) Homepage Journal
    But isn't all solar power space based?

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