Solar In Space

The division of the U.S. government’s National Security Space Office known as “Dream Works” (no joke) has formulated a vision for a space-based solar system that would capture sunlight with satellite solar arrays and beam it down to Earth.

In a report released yesterday, the NSSO recommended laying the groundwork for commercial development of the idea. The first part of the plan is “incremental” R&D, culminating in a proof-of-concept design to be launched within the next decade. In fact, an appendix to the full “interim assessment” (pdf) is subtitled “10 Years — 10 Megawatts — $10 Billion.”

Of special interest to energy tech investors here on the ground are the technologies that the DoD could develop in that R&D program. Cost-effective and safe wireless power transmission, for example, is an absolute necessity for the program and could lead to a variety of other applications.

While the ostensible purpose of the project is to create large amounts of clean energy to help provide power back on Earth, the DoD also sees “beamed energy from space in quantities greater than 5 MWe” as having “the potential to be a disruptive game changer on the battlefield.” The satellites could provide energy to troops across the globe without the need for supply lines. Of course defense would be a major incentive — sigh.

The space-based solar power idea is not a new one. The idea originated way back in 1968 with Dr. Peter Glaser, but had such clear technical and economic hurdles that it never got very far. Various government agencies have been only mildly interested in the idea, investing about $80 million into the idea over the years, which is the equivalent of a huge cleantech VC fund handing me 50 cents for this article.


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