By Joseph M. Rauscher
NSS Board of Directors
NSS Space Solar Power Program Manager
Image: SPS-ALPHA concept courtesy John C. Mankins.
Space Solar Power (SSP) is receiving renewed worldwide attention as the projected cost has dropped by orders of magnitude in recent years due to the pending advent of SpaceX’s Starship, hyper-modular designs allowing mass production of components, and robotic assembly.
SSP was prominently featured throughout the NSS 40th Annual International Space Development Conference® (ISDC® 2022) held at Hyatt Crystal City Hotel, Arlington, Virginia, from May 26-29, 2022. This year’s SSP events included the Space Solar Power Symposium, the International Space Solar Power Student Project Competition, and ISDC Space Solar Power Policy Panel. The SSP coverage included national programs, commercial investments, university research programs, non-profit organization projects, and inspired individuals who bring unique talents/resources.
This year’s Space Solar Power Symposium was organized by Gary P. Barnhard and John C. Mankins. We are pleased to present some of the slide presentations (and some videos) here:
Commercial/Academic Programs & Projects:
The International Space Solar Power Student Competition is a global, undergraduate and graduate level annual event, now in its sixth year, presented by SPACE Canada in partnership with the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) Power Committee, National Space Society (NSS), and the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC). The 2022 presentations were:
- Indian Team: Assembly of Space Based Solar Power Satellite using Space Robotics – Sejal Jain, Prathmesh Barapatre
- USA Team (University of Maryland): Electric Vehicle Power Beaming – Neil Sorkin
- Scottish Team: Financing Strategy for Phase 1 of the SPG Architecture – Narthana Arumugam
- Portuguese Team (University of Aveiro): Energy Mules: A novel solar power satellite system architecture capable of energy storage – Ricardo A. M. Pereira, Helena Ribeiro, Henrique Chaves, and Matilde Monteiro. Faculty Advisors: Nuno Borges Carvalho, and Sandra F. H. Correia
- Italian Team: Orbital Recharge in Space – Lopez Francesco, Mauro Anna, Monteleone Giuseppe, Sfasciamuro Domenico Edoardo, and Villa Andrea
- Japanese Team: Feasibility study of a large-scale WPT system formed by a modular structure – Yusuke Kishida, Takahiro Ohnisi, Miki Kaneko, Shuji Higashigawa, Tomohiro Ebisawa, Yudia Fujii, and Hotaka Yamada. Supervisor: Koji Tanaka (SOKENDAI, ISAS/JAXA)
“NASA to reexamine space-based solar power”
A Friday morning talk by Nikolai Joseph of NASA’s Office of Technology, Policy and Strategy resulted in the above headline in a Space News article on May 28, which reported:
[Joseph] said the agency was beginning a short-term study evaluating the prospects of space-based solar power, or SBSP, the first by the agency in about two decades. “As the technology has evolved, the feasibility of the system has changed over time,” he said. “This study is going to assess the degree to which NASA should support space-based solar power”…. Advances in several technical areas, Joseph said, give the agency reason to at least reexamine the feasibility of SBSP. “The elephant in the room is launch costs, and launch has become significantly more accessible. That completely changes the way we look at this,” he said. Other areas that have seen advances include thermal systems, electronics, materials and solar panels…. The goal is to finish the study and present it at the International Astronautical Congress in Paris in September.
The ability to provide power and ancillary services when and where needed is essential to virtually all aspects of human endeavor. It is enabling for any form of space development/settlement. Space solar power technology promises to be one of the few energy generation options that can provide dispatchable power that can scale dramatically. While Space Solar Power is not a panacea, it can be an integral part of the mix of environmentally benign solutions needed to meet worldwide electrical energy demand both on the planet and off. Using space solar power and allied technologies to foster an expanding space economy and sphere of human influence – a cooperative, collaborative, and competitive ecosystem of entities engaged in space development – is a path to achieving the “promise of the future.” That sphere of human influence will initially be the “Cislunar Marketplace“.
For more information and support:
- Numerous technical/engineering/design issues will need to be prioritized, addressed, and resolved before international stakeholders can begin to consider SSP transmission frequencies, geopolitical conflict of interests, and consortium management.
- Need one or more government led consortiums to blend and leverage government and commercial financial management, funding, oversight, etc. Initial international consortium could include US, Canada, EU, UK, Japan, and Korea for blending climate change and energy security goals. But innovative program administration features must be required to insure proper program oversight and transparency. Strict controls and oversight will be needed to manage schedules and costs to avoid it being a one of a kind super-expensive project.
- Consider publishing material with build-a-world.org and IEEE PES books (Digital Library on Power and Energy).
- Need intelligent grid controls and energy storage solutions.
- Consider CITIgroup forecast analysis re commercial space, PPP, SSP, etc.
- Logic dictates that we recognize that SSP and the survival of humanity are linked.
- Need U.S. bi-partisian sponsors (e.g., Problem Solvers Caucus) for a Congressional committee to hold SSP hearings, with assurance that the committee membership is diverse and that the hearing witnesses include appropriate stakeholder representatives.
- I suggest launching NSS fundraising and/or strategic planning project to address SSP and related power beaming and cis-lunar issues, as well as look at potential collaboration between NSS and other organizations.
Comments would be appreciated.