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Pentagon Urges Space-Based Solar Power

kdawson posted about 7 years ago | from the let-the-beam-me-down-jokes-begin dept.

Power 552

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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Could be a tremendously capable tool, but.... (3, Insightful)

BWJones (18351) | about 7 years ago | (#20976951)

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:Could be a tremendously capable tool, but.... (3, Interesting)

MBraynard (653724) | about 7 years ago | (#20976979)

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.

Also the Fear of Where the Money Comes From (5, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | about 7 years ago | (#20976985)

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.

Re:Also the Fear of Where the Money Comes From (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about 7 years ago | (#20977295)

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 anyways. I'm not real positive on the efficiency of beaming the juice back to earth but I am away that in space the effective efficiency is greater then in our atmosphere for solar power. I say "effective efficiency" because I'm not sure if the panels are more efficient or if they just receive more sunlight. anyways, once the panels are in space, the costs is pretty much static for them. If they could sell the energy off, it shouldn't take long with todays high process to recoup the majority of the costs in putting them up there. I would be in favor of something like 3 panels a shot if possible, 2 to sell energy from and one for the military to use unless war or some emergency require diverting them.

The only real question I have is along the lines of how many of these things can we put in space before they block to much sun or become a hazard to the others. IT seems to me that 15 megawatts isn't that much power when considering an entire country like the US.

Re:Also the Fear of Where the Money Comes From (4, Insightful)

IWannaBeAnAC (653701) | about 7 years ago | (#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?

Actually, this could save money... (0, Redundant)

tjstork (137384) | about 7 years ago | (#20977299)

I know this may sound crazy, but the achilles heel of the US military is its fuel. Forget about the obvious guzzlers - like gas turbine warships and fighter jets, just look at the US Army, where its lightest and most fuel efficient fighting vehicle is a frigging Hummer. And then radios and combat centers and all of the communications, artillery and other infrastructure require generators, and hence even more fuel. I think the US Army blows through more fuel today in a month then the whole Army did during all of World War II. It's really a staggering problem... you have to have a lot of infrastructure to move all that fuel around, and all that infrastructure comes at a heavy, heavy price.

If you could have some sort of space based system beaming massive amounts of energy down to the ground, you could theoretically have a mobile receiving station, you could think about electric powered transport to replace things like Hummers, power all the command and control electronics, and probably also do electromagnetic artillery rather than conventional artillery. I imagine you'd have to have some seriously powerful batteries to move a tank with an electric motor, but, you even still, the weight savings in all the other stuff could at least help keep your MBTs moving. Perhaps you could, domestically, produce tank and jet fuel with coal to liquids, and still ship -that- via normal transport, in the interim. Or, you rethink your army so that you basically have a lighter force but with genuinely awesome artillery to back it up... if all you had to do was transport kinetic slugs, and not heavy shells, you could throw a lot more destructive power at an enemy.

Re:Actually, this could save money... (2, Insightful)

Original Replica (908688) | about 7 years ago | (#20977385)

If you could have some sort of space based system beaming massive amounts of energy down to the ground,

If we give the Pentagon a giant space laser, why do we have to send troops at all? At very least we should be able to cancel any further developement on bombers with this thing.

Yes I know it's supposed to deliver a beam to create electricity, not a destructive beam, but be realistic this is the Pentagon we are talking about.

Re:Actually, this could save money... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20977463)

If we give the Pentagon a giant space laser, why do we have to send troops at all?


because we haven't found any giant space sharks yet...

Re:Actually, this could save money... (1)

tjstork (137384) | about 7 years ago | (#20977537)

If we give the Pentagon a giant space laser, why do we have to send troops at all? At very least we should be able to cancel any further developement on bombers with this thing.

Well, if we didn't plan on occupying a region, you would be correct. I agree with you on the bombers. No need for manned combat aircraft when you have a giant death ray overhead. I think the F-22 will be the last class of manned fighter we'll ever build.

Re:Could be a tremendously capable tool, but.... (5, Insightful)

navtal (943711) | about 7 years ago | (#20977011)

Or they could direct the megawatt beam at things other then a power collector.....

Re:Could be a tremendously capable tool, but.... (2, Interesting)

pete-classic (75983) | about 7 years ago | (#20977527)

That's right where my head went, too. But if it's geosynchronous it'd be hard for them to hit any of the usual targets.

Guess we should keep an eye out for them launching a bunch of mirrors.

-Peter

Re:Could be a tremendously capable tool, but.... (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20977545)

'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 report's author was heard saying "That's not a taser. THIS is a taser!"

The ACLU was not available for comment, due to an unexplained fire at their headquarters.

Re:Could be a tremendously capable tool, but.... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20977029)

It *was* a complaint about the GPS system. The government has given up the right to degrade GPS signals and the next generation of GPS satellites won't even have the ability.

Re:Could be a tremendously capable tool, but.... (1)

Alex Pennace (27488) | about 7 years ago | (#20977449)

Given that GPS satellites are succinctly described as "iPods connected to atomic clocks," it seems incredible that the next generation of GPS satellites would be unable to playback the (perhaps intentionally crippled) signal that it was told to broadcast. Got a link for your claim?

And (0, Redundant)

Trikenstein (571493) | about 7 years ago | (#20977073)

I bet it'd make a great Death Ray(tm)


A Win Win situation

Re:Could be a tremendously capable tool, but.... (0, Troll)

Linker3000 (626634) | about 7 years ago | (#20977137)

No, no, no - this means that the USA will be less reiliant on fossil-fuels, such as the oil reserves in foreign countries, but they need a battelfield power source for the times when they are on active duty in such foreign countries overthrowing evil dictators and securing those vital supplies of oil upon which they are now less reliant.

It's a bit like needing to go buy a battery for your flashlight because the trip to the store that sells flashlight batteries is on an unlit street.

Simple!

Re:Could be a tremendously capable tool, but.... (1)

Planesdragon (210349) | about 7 years ago | (#20977171)

when they are on active duty in such foreign countries overthrowing evil dictators and securing those vital supplies of oil upon which they are now less reliant.
Actually, it means that the DoD can spend less time defending its fuel source, and more time in battles where they can actually do some objective good.

Bogart? (-1, Troll)

WED Fan (911325) | about 7 years ago | (#20977139)

Sooo..... would this mean that the Pentagon could *bogart* all of the power when needed

Sounds to me like you've got other things to worry about. Like, where is your next stash is coming from? Is that knock on the door the a friend or a cop? Are the feds monitoring your posts? Do you have enough munchies in the fridge or will you have to make a run for McDonalds?

Or, did your roomy bogart all the roaches you had left in the frisbee on top of the TV?

Re:Could be a tremendously capable tool, but.... (2, Interesting)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 7 years ago | (#20977201)

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.

Re:Could be a tremendously capable tool, but.... (1)

BrentWM (320879) | about 7 years ago | (#20977253)

If this is the answer, the question must have been something like, "How can our favorite contractors get a enormous chunk of weapon development money disguised as a green power initiative?"

Re:Could be a tremendously capable tool, but.... (4, Insightful)

drgould (24404) | about 7 years ago | (#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?

It's only 10 MW ... And it's heat ... (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | about 7 years ago | (#20977377)

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... (5, Funny)

benhocking (724439) | about 7 years ago | (#20976953)

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

Re:Right... (5, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 7 years ago | (#20976983)

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.

Tetsuo... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20977309)

I am Tetsuo ... your pathetic Satellite Orbital Laser will be of no use against my telekinetic abilities.

Re:Tetsuo... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20977331)

Wrong anime. Gundam 00 is about a giant solar power facility in space.

Re:Right... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20977327)

It goes something like this:
http://www.addictinggames.com/antcity.html [addictinggames.com]

Re:Right... (1)

pokerdad (1124121) | about 7 years ago | (#20977379)

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".

5-10 Megawatts? (2, Informative)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | about 7 years ago | (#20976955)

You've got to be kidding, that's going to end the energy crisis? Scale it up about 10,000x, maybe.

bullshit reasoning (1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | about 7 years ago | (#20976959)

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."

Of course the pentagon supports it.
Notice they don't say what they want the energy for?
A 5-10 megawatts laser is as powerful as the original SDI plan (nuclear powered multi megawatt lasers) only it comes from clean energy.

An airstrike anywhere on earth with a high powered laser would be the ultimate clean weapon.

Re:bullshit reasoning (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20977019)

ION CANNON READY
SELECT TARGET

Re:bullshit reasoning (3, Funny)

the_humeister (922869) | about 7 years ago | (#20977091)

An airstrike anywhere on earth with a high powered laser would be the ultimate clean weapon.


That's right: it uses clean energy! Everyone wins!

Re:bullshit reasoning (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20977207)

The trouble with that is that if the americans have a space-based laser then asymmetric warfare, probably involving biologicals, will become increasingly attractive for the american reich's enemies. A laser might be the ultimate clean weapon, but people will likely fight with the ultimate dirty weapons (no, not nukes, biologicals).

Re:bullshit reasoning (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about 7 years ago | (#20977337)

I know where your going in your rant but think about it, a laser could solve the problem of a biological weapon by just incinerating the biological agents. Most objects won't burn until around 400 degrees or so, so if they shot the laser on an infected area and heated it up to 250 or 300 F. The biological problems would mostly be killed. And yes, I am assuming that the humans would be removed and decontaminated by reasonable and proper means first.

Re:bullshit reasoning (1)

Dunbal (464142) | about 7 years ago | (#20977323)

An airstrike anywhere on earth with a high powered laser would be the ultimate clean weapon.


Can we please start with the White House?

Re:bullshit reasoning (1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | about 7 years ago | (#20977345)

They already did this in independence day.

Re:bullshit reasoning (2, Insightful)

Ironsides (739422) | about 7 years ago | (#20977405)

Except the SDI plan uses a much more focused laser than this is likely to be. 10MW over a 10m diameter dish comes out to ~125kw/m^2 "merely" 100 times more than the sun. Most microwaves generate at least 9kw/m^2, so this is about a 14kw microwave instead of your regular 1kw. The SDI focuses those multimegawats into an areas less than 6 inches in diameter. A power density a few orders of magnitude greater.

USA USA USA (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | about 7 years ago | (#20976963)

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 (4, Insightful)

SnowZero (92219) | about 7 years ago | (#20977035)

Free as in taxes, right?

Re:USA USA USA (2, Informative)

mrmojo (841397) | about 7 years ago | (#20977269)

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 (3, Insightful)

Colin Smith (2679) | about 7 years ago | (#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?

Re:USA USA USA (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | about 7 years ago | (#20977393)

Yup. At the point of a gun.

Re:USA USA USA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20977427)

More like "free" as in "freeloader".

Re:USA USA USA (1)

springbox (853816) | about 7 years ago | (#20977481)

That's the only "free as in" statement that ever made sense

I'll tell them what I want... (1)

Simply Curious (1002051) | about 7 years ago | (#20976969)

I want 5 megawatts by mid-May.

Re:I'll tell them what I want... (1)

gadzook33 (740455) | about 7 years ago | (#20977001)

Uh, look, I think you may be getting a little obsessive about this now.

10 megawatts (1)

nurb432 (527695) | about 7 years ago | (#20976971)

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 (5, Interesting)

Daishiman (698845) | about 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Life imitates art (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20977061)

Or alternatively, to implement a guidance system...

5-10MW is bugger all. They probably just want the option of raining microwave death down on their enemies without being accused of weaponising space.

Re:Life imitates art (1)

Repton (60818) | about 7 years ago | (#20977135)

In _Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri_, you could build orbital power plants, once you discovered orbital spaceflight.

You could also build orbital hydroponics stations.. I wonder if that would be cost- or energy-effective in real life?

Re:Life imitates art (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20977175)

But who on earth does things in practice concerning safety?
I mean, that tilt sensor might add an additional 4 dollars to the project cost...

R&D needs that 4 dollars for 1/100th of their coffee supply!

Tinfoil hat? (4, Funny)

woolio (927141) | about 7 years ago | (#20977497)

In practice, it'd be a piece of cake to implement a safeguard against that.

Tinfoil hat?

Need I say more?

Re:Life imitates art (1)

stuff and such (980278) | about 7 years ago | (#20977535)

In a into to mechanical engineering class several quarters ago my prof talked a US idea from way back (way may mean 1960s to 1980s, I can't remember) of putting a satellite into orbit that would collect solar energy and beam it down in the from of microwaves. The reason he gave this fell through was they did some worst case scenarios of what would happen if the beam were off by even a fraction of a degree.
Anyone older than me remember this idea?

5-10Mw? That's stupid. (2, Insightful)

Cyberax (705495) | about 7 years ago | (#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:5-10Mw? That's stupid. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20977037)

Typical nuclear power plants output hundreds megawatts of power.
Typical nuclear power plants output thousands megawatts of power, per reactor .

Re:5-10Mw? That's stupid. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20977367)

5-10Mw is the power output of _one_ _small_ power plant. Typical nuclear power plants output hundreds megawatts of power.

It's called "proof of concept".

Re:5-10Mw? That's stupid. (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 7 years ago | (#20977415)

A 120MW unit in a thermal power station is considered very small these days and would most likely be over 30 years old.

Essential reading... (1)

spammeister (586331) | about 7 years ago | (#20976989)

I hear Ben Bova has this solar-power-from-orbit thing all figured out!

Direct Report Link (4, Informative)

AugustZephyr (989775) | about 7 years ago | (#20976991)

Warning: this is a 3.5MB PDF.

SBSB Interim Assessment [nss.org]

Re:Direct Report Link (1)

javawocky (1160907) | about 7 years ago | (#20977039)

Ok, but scale this up some, won't it increase global warming? More energy that wasn't hitting the earth now comes into earth and is converted to heat.

Re:Direct Report Link (1)

calebt3 (1098475) | about 7 years ago | (#20977167)

More heat is directed at Earth, yes. But there would theoretically be less greenhouse gases to keep it in.

Re:Direct Report Link (1)

hrvatska (790627) | about 7 years ago | (#20977513)

From page 33 of the report:

"The final global effect is not obvious, but also important. While it may seem intuitively obvious that SBSP introduces heat into the biosphere by beaming more energy in, the net effect is quite the opposite. All energy put into the electrical grid will eventually be spent as heat, but the methods of generating electricity are of significant impact for determining which approach produces the least total global warming effect. Fossil fuel burning emits large amounts of waste heat and greenhouse gases, while terrestrial solar and wind power also emit significant amounts of waste heat via inefficient conversion. Likewise, SBSP also has solar conversion inefficiencies that produce waste heat, but the key difference is that the most of this waste heat creation occurs outside the biosphere to be radiated into space. The losses in the atmosphere are very small, on the order of a couple percent for the wavelengths considered. Because SBSP is not a greenhouse gas emitter (with the exception of initial manufacturing and launch fuel emissions), it does not contribute to the trapping action and retention of heat in the biosphere."

Dupe (2, Informative)

Goonie (8651) | about 7 years ago | (#20977021)

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).

Kumbayah, indeed. (4, Funny)

haakondahl (893488) | about 7 years ago | (#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:Kumbayah, indeed. (2, Insightful)

nacturation (646836) | about 7 years ago | (#20977181)

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:Kumbayah, indeed. (1)

WK2 (1072560) | about 7 years ago | (#20977389)

And with a vast enough array of collectors blocking the sunlight, they could also solve global warming.

Or they could tilt the reflectors, and solve nuclear winter!

Stupid! (Not) (1, Insightful)

wonkavader (605434) | about 7 years ago | (#20977047)

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 trouble now. We'd have to start funding that again. ...Ah, not so stupid.

Re:Stupid! (Not) (1)

Dunbal (464142) | about 7 years ago | (#20977301)

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.

There are stupid ideas (5, Insightful)

Cracked Pottery (947450) | about 7 years ago | (#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:There are stupid ideas (2, Funny)

darkmeridian (119044) | about 7 years ago | (#20977203)

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.

Re:There are stupid ideas (1)

Cracked Pottery (947450) | about 7 years ago | (#20977401)

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 worse not to have it, than to have it and gamble mistakenly that it will work as promised.

Re:There are stupid ideas (1)

Atario (673917) | about 7 years ago | (#20977303)

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.

Re:There are stupid ideas (4, Insightful)

4D6963 (933028) | about 7 years ago | (#20977487)

I seems like a perfectly reasonable solution to one of the big worries over standard solar arrays: land use.

Funny to hear that about a country which 42% of its territory is desertic.

Re:There are stupid ideas (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20977507)

maybe put up more wind energy farms


first you'd have to get the limousine liberals to get over their NIMBYism

The initial version may not be impressive but... (5, Insightful)

Koreantoast (527520) | about 7 years ago | (#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.

Evil Villains R Us (1)

NoseyNick (19946) | about 7 years ago | (#20977095)

He then went back to stroking his pussy, safe in the knowledge that his giant space laser would deal with Mr Bond.

Re:Evil Villains R Us (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20977461)

He then went back to stroking his pussy, safe in the knowledge that his giant space laser would deal with Mr Bond.

I don't know if you meant that tongue-in-cheek, but that line created some disturbing images in my head.

I, Robot (2, Interesting)

lipi (142489) | about 7 years ago | (#20977117)

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."

"delivering energy directly to the battlefield" (2, Interesting)

imsabbel (611519) | about 7 years ago | (#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.

And just think..... (1)

blankoboy (719577) | about 7 years ago | (#20977145)

if they had gone ahead with this 6 years ago instead of plowing billions (trillions even?) into something else, *ahem*, we could already be well on our way there. Someone put the US wallet into the right hands already.

Re:And just think..... (1)

tftp (111690) | about 7 years ago | (#20977195)

Soon you will have a chance to vote for those right hands - provided that you can find them on the political landscape. When you do find them, please let everyone else know who that person is.

Most of the technology already exists (2, Insightful)

StealthyRoid (1019620) | about 7 years ago | (#20977185)

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's infinite, and it's about a gazillion times more efficient than terrestrial solar power, so it would cut down on the amount of pollution produced when we make solar cells (lots of silver and such).

From an environmental standpoint (which I don't care much about anyway, but whatever), it'd be nice to see China's growing space agency grab onto this idea as well, since they're the largest source of pollution in the world, and their energy demands are only increasing. But, in any case, at least someone is starting to take the concept seriously.

Can never break even on energy. (3, Informative)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | about 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Can never break even on energy. (1)

Jagetwo (1133103) | about 7 years ago | (#20977429)

Well, since it is kelvin grams (Kg), just launch it into the space really really cold, but with warm 100 kelvin grams (Kg) of fuel. The sun will heat the device up, thus generating potentially break even amount kelvin watts (KW)!

Re:Can never break even on energy. (1)

danbert8 (1024253) | about 7 years ago | (#20977499)

100 Kelvin grams are cold as hell! What are you talking about?

Re:Can never break even on energy. (3, Insightful)

QuantumRiff (120817) | about 7 years ago | (#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)

Better keep nuclear reactors on standby. (1)

calebt3 (1098475) | about 7 years ago | (#20977205)

We would need them if China decided to declare war, considering that they have ground-based anti-satellite lasers.

Re:Better keep nuclear reactors on standby. (1)

Dunbal (464142) | about 7 years ago | (#20977271)

Ahh but the beauty of this plan is that the satellite is also a giant LASER. Here, let's share 10MW with that chinese anti-satellite facility ZAP ooo look deep fried...

Not a bad idea (3, Insightful)

MetricT (128876) | about 7 years ago | (#20977217)

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.

WARNING: Will Cause Solar Warming! (1)

lojpre (944927) | about 7 years ago | (#20977239)

DO NOT DO THIS! If we build a photo-voltaic sphere around the sun, it will retain too much energy within the solar system and we will all burn up due to heat! Maintain photo-voltaic cells on this rock, others we colonize, (including our moon) and be happy with that! If plants can do it, so can we.

Sounds like a money-transference scheme (3, Insightful)

sizzzzlerz (714878) | about 7 years ago | (#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.

Typical end of fiscal year power grab (1)

Aaron England (681534) | about 7 years ago | (#20977257)

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.

Long term Issues (1)

nyrkgrizzle (1173793) | about 7 years ago | (#20977399)

While I see this type of technology being, in the end, the long term answer to energy problems in general. There is a small problem. Even though it is a nice clean energy source, if you scale this out, as energy demands from in increases, is you are beaming heat directly onto the planet. Since it is collected from orbit, it is energy that would have missed the earth, and not contributed to raising the temperature.. You could build a pretty healthy array of light gathering satellites, all beaming energy to the earth. As this energy is consumed, it is transfered into the earth's atmosphere to dissipate. The energy may be clean, but the effect of raising the earth's temperature is the same. The atmosphere could be as clean as before man walked the earth, but we'd still have global warming from this.

Geothermal is a far better use of research dollars (1)

voxelman (236068) | about 7 years ago | (#20977431)

What a total waste when a far smaller investment in deep geothermal technological development will yield a far more stable, reliable and efficient energy source. See 384 page MIT study here http://web.mit.edu/ceepr/www/mit%20geothermal%20study.html [mit.edu] .

Tremendously capable tool....for the right app. (1)

Darth_brooks (180756) | about 7 years ago | (#20977457)

Solving the problem of supplying clean energy to the nation and eliminating our dependence on oil and coal...no.

Creating a new solution for delivering a large amount of power to the middle of nowhere without hauling around as much gear...yes. This offers a new way to setup a forward base of operations quickly and without having to waste precious cargo space on generators and fuel. You can have 5-10 *always on* megawatts waiting for you.

On the "not quite as evil" side of things, you could set up a very good sized mash unit in a post-katrina or post-tsunami like area that no longer has, and won't have for quite a while, infrastructure.

Nice Death Ray (1)

PenGun (794213) | about 7 years ago | (#20977483)

Well at least it'll be fairly easy to destroy. Those big ol geosynchronous birds are sitting ducks. Any major conflict will require it's destruction.

Could come in handy (1)

PhxBlue (562201) | about 7 years ago | (#20977485)

Given our popularity with the rest of the world, this system will come in handy when they all decide to invade [wikipedia.org] .

C&C vs SC2000 (1)

gringer (252588) | about 7 years ago | (#20977525)

I'm not sure which game this is more like. On the one hand, the outward intention seems to be similar to that of the Microwave Receiver Dish in Sim City 2000:

MICROWAVE RECEIVER DISH - launch a satellite to collect solar power, then beam it down to Earth. Microwave power is very efficient, clean and reliable. Unfortunately, the effects of a mis-targeted beam are as yet unknown
However, some discussion has commented on the deliberate mis-targeting of the beam, which reminds me of Command & Conquer:

Ion Cannon Ready... Select Target

C&C (2, Funny)

koutkeu (655921) | about 7 years ago | (#20977529)

I think they played too much command and conquer. Long live the ion canon!

Generators (1)

fishthegeek (943099) | about 7 years ago | (#20977551)

I know that the orbital power plant is expensive, but when I was in the Persian Gulf during Gulf War 1 we had to haul around dozens of generators, fuel trucks, parts, and personnel to manage, install, repair, and pack up those machines. Add a new range of electronics for artillery and mlrs systems and you have many times the power needs today than we had in the army of '91. I think that it will indeed possibly solve problems for the military but the potential here is that we can finally find a way to deliver power to areas where eco-terrorists will not let the poor have access to cheap power sources. This could seriously be a boon to some of the worlds poorest regions if we can learn to do it well.
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