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Power Space Hardware

Tapping Solar Wind's Renewable Energy 277

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the hope-that-works-out-for-ya dept.
A few folks noted a story making the rounds about the huge energy potential just blowing past the planet in the form of solar wind. This research involves putting a satellite into orbit with a thousand-meter cable and a 5,000-mile sail to generate more power than the earth currently uses.
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Tapping Solar Wind's Renewable Energy

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  • by shadowrat (1069614) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @10:18AM (#33807848)
    However, when you consider that the solar wind is the only thing keeping the aliens at bay, you might think twice about disrupting them.
    • Last time NASA tried to string a tether, the space aliens cut it. I know I've seen the proof on video.

      /end crazy mode

      But seriously. This is a great idea for powering space stations and such, but how the heck do you get the power back to the ground? You'll lose a lot of power during transmission from satellite to ground. More importantly how do you avoid killing people with the heat wave? If you thought the Parabolic Hotel was a hot spot, wait until a satellite error makes the megawatt beam go careeni

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by John Hasler (414242)

        - Live in grass huts and eat windfalls.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Robert Zenz (1680268)

        You might wanna re-read the summary...it would be using a cable.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          You might wanna re-re-read the summary.

          The cable is (depending on size of sail) less than 1 km long.

          Thus it would be sail -> up to 1km cable --> orbiting power sat ----- ? ----> earth

          The ? is either a laser or microwave.

          • HA HA, only kidding (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Thud457 (234763)
            They could store the energy in really big springs and bring them back to Earth in the space shuttle.

            Actually all these SPSS plans are all a big shuck. They tell the groundhogs that they're going to send back orders of magnitude more energy than civilization needs. When really, it makes more sense to use the power in situ and build space colonies to take advantage of it. It's all just a stalking horse to get the flatlanders to pay for their zero-G love hotels.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by daem0n1x (748565)
          Finally, a Slashdot innovation: RTFS!
        • by mcvos (645701)

          You might wanna re-read the summary...it would be using a cable.

          And how do you think that's going to help in getting the power to earth? Their idea does not include building a space elevator, or for that matter any other solution to this problem.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jameskojiro (705701)

        Microwaves can be attenuated so they don't react with critters on the ground but only are picked up by specially calibrated receiver.

        I think we need MORE energy, how else do you suppose we should climb the Kardashev scale from Type 0 to Type 1 civilisation?

        I think we could increase the population by expanding out to space so that we have a couple hundred Trillion people living in our solar system and expand to other solar systems at least until we run into other intelligent life.

        Whenever I hear someone ment

        • by ComaVN (325750) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @11:11AM (#33808554)

          Whenever I hear someone mention depopulation as a good idea I shudder. Just HOW do you suppose you are going to accomplish that?

          A death ray powered by a solar wind collector, obviously.

          It's right there in the summary, sheesh.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by zrbyte (1666979)
          Agree with you.

          Civilizations thrive and prosper if there are plenty of cheap resources and energy available. The more of it the better. Right now we're heading for a shock in energy prices, so any creative idea, initiative is certainly welcome. "Depopulation" (whatever that means) has a dark side as well. Just watch Japan in the coming decades. They certainly aren't having lots of children [google.com]. If they don't build a population of robots/cyborgs, whatever to support them, in a few decades they will have a crip

      • I think the world would be a lot better off if we simply got
        some funding to dense plasma focus which is near success.

        Google Video of a google talk on the subject.

        Dense Plasma Focus Fusion:

        http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1518007279479871760# [google.com]

      • how the heck do you get the power back to the ground? You'll lose a lot of power during transmission from satellite to ground.

        The beauty of systems with 'free/unlimited' fuel is that their efficiency is just a small footnote. There's more power available than we could ever use in any reasonable time frame. So even if the 'loss' is 90 percent, simply build a bigger system so that the 10 percent we do get covers our needs.

        On top of that, when you can use the energy to power the energy capture system, now your system literally is self sustaining.

      • Re:Sounds great... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mcvos (645701) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @11:38AM (#33809162)

        This is a great idea for powering space stations and such, but how the heck do you get the power back to the ground? You'll lose a lot of power during transmission from satellite to ground. More importantly how do you avoid killing people with the heat wave?

        Would be nice if you could just string a cable from orbit to the ground, wouldn't it? Another reason to start working on that space elevator.

        What would should be doing is looking for realistic solutions:
        - Depopulate: Less babies == less humans == less need for energy

        How is this realistic? Want to start a war to wipe out most of the population? Your other suggestions are a lot better, fortunately.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by CAIMLAS (41445)

          Unless every country had a space elevator, we would quickly see denial attacks against said space elevators (or attempts to control them). "Free, unlimited energy" is a game changer.

          A saner approach would probably be narrow band microwave, I'd think.

  • Drag (Score:2, Funny)

    by Sarten-X (1102295)
    Am I the only one slightly concerned about this idea turning the Earth into an interstellar spacecraft, solving the global warming problem permanently (as far as humans are concerned)?
    • Re:Drag (Score:4, Informative)

      by Stargoat (658863) <stargoat@gmail.com> on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @10:22AM (#33807898) Journal

      Yes, you are. That makes about as much sense as Guam flipping over. [youtube.com] The Earth is so large that this would never be able to move it. Further, as the article states, this isn't a sail, rather it's a collector of electrons.

      • by Hatta (162192)

        That makes about as much sense as Guam flipping over.

        Hm, maybe we could attach turbines to Guam.

    • Re:Drag (Score:4, Insightful)

      by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@g m a i l .com> on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @10:24AM (#33807936) Journal

      You understand that the Earth is already out in the solar wind, right? With a surface area vastly larger than the proposed sail? If we were going to blow away, it'd have already happened.

    • Re:Drag (Score:5, Funny)

      by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @10:24AM (#33807938) Journal

      Am I the only one slightly concerned about this idea turning the Earth into an interstellar spacecraft, solving the global warming problem permanently (as far as humans are concerned)?

      -1 Moronic

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by eln (21727)
      The first two men on the moon are world famous, but very few people can name who the third or fourth are, or indeed any of the others. Clearly, being first is hugely important. If you're first, you get bragging rights and endless book deals even if you're not a very good writer (I'm looking at you, Buzz). If you're not first, all you get to do is go around telling everyone you hit golf balls on the moon in hopes of getting invited to speak at an elementary school assembly.

      With this in mind, deciding w
      • by Sarten-X (1102295)

        Perfect! Now instead of fearing that we'll be casting ourselves off into space, I can just fear that we won't get the timing/direction right!

        I remember Shoemaker-Levy 9. It did not end well for the inhabitants.

        With paranoia, you're never alone.

      • From memory:

        Apollo 12: Pete Conrad / Gordon Bean
        Apollo 13: Did not land
        Apollo 14: Alan Shepard / Edgar Mitchell
        Apollo 15: Scott / Worden?
        Apollo 16: John Young / Charlie Duke
        Apollo 17: Gene Cernan / Harrison "Jack" Schmitt

        I'm pretty sure about the 3rd - 6th men to walk on the moon, as well as 11-12. The others are a little iffy...

        • Who cares if you're first? You've still done something 99.9999999% of the other humans never did. Even something as trivial as saying, My name is on Mars* makes people go "oooh really?". People are easily impressed. I'm sure "Hi I'm Gene Cerman and I walked on the moon" will get him laid at any party.

          *
          *Back when Carl Sagan was still alive, he convinced NASA to include the names of everyone who donated towards the Mars Rover program. My name is one of those, printed in tiny 0.01 point type along with se

          • by RobDude (1123541)

            Here's a tip....

            Even if your name *isn't* on Mars, you can still lie and say it is. I mean, I don't think I'd be bragging about that at a party; but if your goal is to impress ditzy blondes.....you can just go ahead and lie, like all the rest of us do.

        • by ePhil_One (634771)
          I thought it was neat that he ranted against the SECOND man on the moon in his post about people only remembering the first.
          • by eln (21727)
            I did specifically say "the first two" at the very beginning of the post in order to allow for my crack at Buzz later on. Nothing personal against Buzz, he seems like a nice enough guy, but his last book was, in my view, not very good at all.
        • by Surt (22457)

          But surely even you accept that such knowledge is EXTREMELY rare, and that statistically you are equivalent to 'no one' knowing, right?

    • by Surt (22457)

      The energies involved in powering the whole world, and moving the whole world are many orders of magnitude apart, so you needn't worry.

  • by assemblerex (1275164) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @10:18AM (#33807852)
    The first thing any government will ask is: "So who will be in control of all the world's power?"
    • by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@g m a i l .com> on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @10:23AM (#33807908) Journal

      Goes without saying no-one would cooperate on this, so, obviously, whoever gets off their ass and builds it.

      And it's not about "who controls all the worlds power"...That doesn't even make sense from a commodity selling standpoint. Whoever launches it becomes a big time energy trader, until such a time as everyone else gets pissed at them, and shoots down their satellite.

    • by vlm (69642)

      The first thing any government will ask is: "So who will be in control of all the world's power?"

      This is assuming only one can/will be built. Seems very unlikely.

      More likely is major regional ... disagreement. For example, if Israel gets one, where will their neighbors get power?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The first thing any government will ask is: "So who will be in control of all the world's power?"

      Nobody. What would actually happen is that whoever controls the satellite would have to sell the power at a price it will sell at, i.e not more than other power generators are selling for.

      Unless of course the owners of the satellite buy out/bribe governments for control over every other generator of electrical power in the world; in which case the maximum price will be when a substantial number of power consumers are willing to switch to microgeneration/hydraulic power/whatever.

      It is true that someone (be t

    • why wouldn't each capable country have it's own?
      No one said there had to be just one per planet - only that each would have the potential to supply all of humanities power needs.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by AmiMoJo (196126)

      Whoever controls the focused microwave downlink used to beam power back to earth.

      On a more serious note this is going to be an issue this century. Already governments are eyeing Helium 3 on the moon to power fusion reactors. It's a limited resource, only one country can have a mine on a particular spot etc.

      Weather control and messing with rivers are other examples of countries messing with each other's shared resources. Oh, and fishing of course.

  • I played that version of SimCity. The IR Laser beam always ended up incenerating my town.
  • Hmm. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@g m a i l .com> on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @10:19AM (#33807862) Journal

    If the satellite is attached to a 5000km sail, which is spread so as to catch the solar wind, what's to stop it from blowing away?

    Also, who gets to volunteer to have the bazillo-watt microwave laser pointed at them? I've played sim city. I know it's only a matter of time before the satellite moves and cuts a firey swatch through my town!

    • Re:Hmm. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by maxume (22995) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @10:31AM (#33808026)

      Just boil the Atlantic and harvest energy from the larger, more predictable hurricanes.

    • by Pharmboy (216950)

      I've played sim city. I know it's only a matter of time before the satellite moves and cuts a firey swatch through my town!

      Then you know that sometimes it's an accident, and sometimes it is on purpose under the guise of it being an accident. I guess they could host the receiver at some underprivileged area, you know, to create "opportunity".

  • Original article (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @10:23AM (#33807912)

    Click me. [newscientist.com] This article is paywalled after you read a few stories, but the paywall is a javascript popup. Noscript lets you read the article.

  • "thousand meter cable, and 5,000 mile sail" Meters and miles. Isn't this use of mixed units the error that doomed a mars satellite?
    • by Smallpond (221300) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @10:37AM (#33808106) Homepage Journal

      "thousand meter cable, and 5,000 mile sail" Meters and miles. Isn't this use of mixed units the error that doomed a mars satellite?

      That's ok, the energy unit that they use is the kilohome:

      According to the team's calculations, 300 meters (984 feet) of copper wire, attached to a two-meter-wide (6.6-foot-wide) receiver and a 10-meter (32.8-foot) sail, would generate enough power for 1,000 homes.

      You can convert that to English units using Home's Law.

  • Typo (Score:2, Insightful)

    by men0s (1413347)

    A few folks noted a story making the rounds about the huge energy potential just blowing passed the planet in the form of solar winds.

    Really? Editors don't read the first sentence of a submission?

  • by iONiUM (530420) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @10:33AM (#33808050) Homepage Journal

    So I always thought fusion would be the first thing to provide an infinite resource (electricity), but it looks like this is a more viable (read: closer) solution.

    If humanity gets one resource that is in essence, infinite, it would seriously change our race. I hope, for the better.

  • by wonkavader (605434) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @10:33AM (#33808058)

    OK, if we put up a rectangle 8,000 kilometers by 8,000 kilometers, it'll produce 100,000,000,000,000 times the energy we need.

    WHY DON'T THEY SUGGEST A 1 KILOMETER BY 1 KILOMETER SAIL?

    What's going on here? Did the guys being interviewed say something reasonable, and then also abstract it to a high number for the reporter, and the reporter only decided to write up the insane, absurd, bizarrely huge number? Or were the guys being interviewed just nuts?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ceoyoyo (59147)

      The article gives a 10 m x 10 m sail (1000 homes) as an example, and then goes off the deep end. It SOUNDS like it might be practical if you could figure out the power beaming problem, but in order to arrive at that conclusion you have to do your own math.

    • by AJWM (19027) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @01:36PM (#33812484) Homepage

      My question exactly. Or almost exactly -- from the number of zeroes you're using the European "billion" (million million) rather than the North American (thousand million).

      But even assuming the latter, a 1 km square sail gives roughly 6 times the energy Earth uses currently (by their figures). And a 1 km square sail is a heck of a lot easier to build than an 8000 km square one.

      That number, though, surprises me. Sunlight flux is less than 1.5 kW/square meter at Earth's distance. Call it 2 GW per square kilometer -- nowhere near Earth's energy use (in the 10-20 TW range)*. This is talking about tapping solar wind rather than sunlight, but I find it hard to believe that solar wind flux is that many orders of magnitude more energy intensive than sunlight. If it is -- and despite Earth's magnetic field -- global temperatures are going to be driven mostly by solar wind effects. The numbers in TFA must be wrong, i.e. typical popular science reportage.

      (* TFA says an 8,400 km square sail will produce "a billion billion gigawatts", which works out to over 14 terawatts per square kilometer. The numbers are totally fucked up. Somewhere in there I think somebody confused meters with kilometers and/or watts with kilowatts.)

  • ISS (Score:4, Interesting)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland@ya ... m minus math_god> on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @10:34AM (#33808062) Homepage Journal

    Why don't they test this by powering the ISS?

  • Renewable (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 6031769 (829845) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @10:34AM (#33808066) Homepage Journal

    Er, in what way do you suppose the solar wind is "renewable"?

  • Sail Envy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MonsterTrimble (1205334) <monstertrimble@[ ... m ['hot' in gap]> on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @10:34AM (#33808072)
    This is what got me:

    According to the team's calculations, 300 meters (984 feet) of copper wire, attached to a two-meter-wide (6.6-foot-wide) receiver and a 10-meter (32.8-foot) sail, would generate enough power for 1,000 homes.

    So why would we build one sail, which would be a target and fought over by countries and an untold number of businessess when you could run up a bunch of smaller sails? Easier to build and maintain, which lowers the barrier to entry and stops the wars and lawsuits which would inevitably break out over THE sail. I guess you have to dream big, but like anything, start small.

    • That's grant-speak. They want money to test it, so they talk about it as the end-all, be-all, when it'd be more realistic to talk about in terms of smaller, more practical units.

      Even if you built a full-size model, there would be no practical way to get the power back to earth.

    • by xednieht (1117791)
      1. because that is too logical for moron politicians
      2. leeches , er. lawyers need jobs too
      3. that's such a populist/socialist idea only a backwards nation like China would do such a thing
      4. war is good for the economy
      5. all the above
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by stubob (204064)

      Launch costs. I'm assuming these will be in geo-synchronous orbit, rather than LEO, so the cost to orbit would be higher.

      Reading the article, the larger sized calculations are for example, and not very realistic. How would you unfurl an 8,400 km sail from a current launch vehicle?

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      I'm not so sure it would be a good idea to have hundreds of these things and their attached gigawatt lasers, all aimed at Earth.

      One big international one might be a good idea. In order to "just redirect the beam for a few seconds" you have to convince everyone... good luck.

    • This is what got me:

      According to the team's calculations, 300 meters (984 feet) of copper wire, attached to a two-meter-wide (6.6-foot-wide) receiver and a 10-meter (32.8-foot) sail, would generate enough power for 1,000 homes.

      So why would we build one sail, which would be a target and fought over by countries and an untold number of businesses when you could run up a bunch of smaller sails?

      There wouldn't be any countries left to fight over our one sail after we death ray them with more energy than the earth currently uses.

    • by Amouth (879122)

      because each sail would have a base cost that would make it unviable compared to existing power sources for cost.

      the fact that it scales well means that they could scale it up to the point that the cost per unit produced drops below existing power sources and there for makes it viable..

      i have no idea what that point would be and nor do i see them saying it - they also say they haven't done a lot of the other research it would take to make it work.

      but i agree rather than 1 to power the world i could see 1 pe

    • Re:Sail Envy (Score:5, Informative)

      by Surt (22457) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @11:50AM (#33809496) Homepage Journal

      The authors original paper ( http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/abscicon2010/pdf/5469.pdf [usra.edu] ) is about building the largest practically possible chunk of a dyson sphere. This is essentially the largest piece they think we are capable of building with current technology.

      • Re:Sail Envy (Score:4, Informative)

        by KumquatOfSolace (1412203) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @03:59PM (#33815558)
        Also, the paper was presented at an astrobiology conference. They are suggesting that an alien civilization is more likely to have built one of these than an actual Dyson sphere (because it seems possible with our own technology within the next 100 years, unlike a Dyson sphere), and they are wondering if we would be able to detect it using our current instruments and techniques. That's the focus of the paper, not the idea that we should actually begin building one.
  • by Last_Available_Usern (756093) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @10:37AM (#33808102)
    They're proposing we build a sail that when viewed two-dimensionally next to Earth is over half the size of the entire planet? Even if you ignore the issue of space debris punching holes in this thing left and right the logistics of creating and "stitching" this together in space are unbelievable.
    • Well whoever sews this thing together, I'm going to feel a lot safer if it has a "Inspected by #13" sticker on it.
    • by Amouth (879122)

      sails are normaly measured in area not width and height..

      the area of the cross section of earth is ~127,516,118 sqkm while the sail is ~8,400 sqkm (assuming MSNBC is stupid and added the -wide which i would bet on as they didn't have a height or a shape) would only be ~1/15,180 of the area and only ~92 km wide and tall as a square sale

      if that is right.. given the chance of it providing power for the world - i think it could be made.. even if done in modules - make the initial transmitter and then the sales

  • the power down to the Earth but being able to get a satellite into orbit where the components can handle the power coming off the line and converted to the beam. Wouldn't the conversion generate a lot of heat?

    • Lets play with the heat idea a bit, but from another perspective.

      From TFA:

      The rest of the energy would power an infrared laser beam, which would help fulfill the whole planet's energy needs day and night regardless of environmental conditions.

      The main shortfall of this approach is that over the millions of miles between the satellite and Earth, even the tightest laser beam would spread out and lose a lot of its original energy.

      So the tight infrared laser would diffuse in the atmosphere? infrared = heat right? and that energy lost is into the earths atmosphere, right?

      Think about the french fries under the infrared heat lamp at the fast food place down the road...

  • Moon Base (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fadethepolice (689344)
    This seems like it would be more applicable to powering a future moon base and manufacturing fuel for interplanetary travel there.
  • by RichMan (8097) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @10:50AM (#33808264)

    I vote they point that honking big power laser at the moon for a couple of years so they can work out any bugs in the targeting control system.

    They can always use the power to work on in-situ zone refinement of lunar material.
    Or carve honking big glowing letters into the moon and sell the advertising space to fund the work.

  • Didn't Nasa teach us anything? 5000 mile and 1000 meter? Pick a unit and stick with it!
  • just turn disasters off and no risk of fire at the down link site.

  • Dude, get your units straight? Metres and then miles? Be consistent, 5000 miles are 8000 Km! Is it that hard?

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