Blog Post

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.

7 Responses to “Solar In Space”

  1. I think this is one of the best/coolest prospects for alternate energy. I really liked to bit about the defense incentives, I will be ecstatic if 2010 rolls around and the U.S. Govt. announces, “… And we have space based solar power station that we have been trying to incorporate into the defense network for a few years.. but we only managed to give the enemy a bad sunburn, so the civilian sector may now use it to solve the worlds energy crisis.”

  2. This should be a top priority to consider when the prices of oil start reaching even higher highs.
    1. Investing in the transportation to take up the solar modules would reduce the cost of space travel more rapidly than periodic space exploration.
    2. Many, many new high caliber jobs for people all over the world.
    3. Locations on earth that did not have access to energy could now receive massive amounts of it no matter where they are located, so long as they could afford it.
    4. Photovoltaic technology would advance so rapidly that we, on earth, could use solar panels for an abundance of ideas that were not feasible in the past, like the solar powered car.
    5. If the first one works and generates an estimated 5GW of electricity, we could seriously consider replacing coal, oil, and nuclear plants economically (nuclear plants can generate up to 1 GW of electricity, or 1000MW).