Monday, March 27, 2006

Solar Energy: Renewables from Outer Space

Whatever happened to the idea of using satellites to harvest solar power 24 hours a day? Jim from the Energy Blog has an update from the Space Island Group (SIG) and their current project to place photovoltaic arrays in orbit.

The Space Island Group, Inc. (SIG) will design and finance two categories of space hardware to make these results possible. Both categories will incorporate components now used on NASA’s space shuttles and other launch vehicles, and on today’s communications satellites. This is not an R&D project. Because we will not develop new rocket engines, guidance systems or other components and because we’ll manage the program with private industry procedures, our development costs will be far below those of comparable government efforts.

The first hardware category will be very large structures up to several kilometers wide called solar power satellites and solar reflectors, which will be assembled in space.

The second will be very low-cost manned and unmanned launch vehicles, and very large, low-cost living quarters in orbit able to comfortably house several hundred occupants at a time. These occupants will, among other tasks, assemble and maintain the orbiting solar satellites and solar reflectors.

....This is not a government program. We feel that taxpayers have already funded most of the hardware we’ll use.

Now it’s our job to use that proven hardware to let a broad range of industries profitably capitalize on that investment. Along the way, we expect that we and these industries will create millions of high-paying American jobs that overseas competitors won’t be able to take away for decades. In fact we’ll make those American jobs a lease-condition for our tenants.

These jobs will start with the defense contractors. Some 90% of our development funds will go to the firms that now build shuttle components for NASA. Tens of thousands of current aerospace jobs will end when the shuttles retire in 2010. Our first launch in 2008 or 2009 will not only absorb those employees, but will increase their numbers many times over during the following decade. Many of the same firms will build our space hardware, but we’ll use simpler, commercial procedures rather than the more complex ones used for government work.

Read more at the SIG website. SIG has quite a few plans for their solar satellites, including energy production, hurricane control, reflecting sunlight to croplands to prolong the growing season, and many more . . . They have a section discussing global warming, ice age, and many other fascinating topics.

Read more about solar power satellites, and other peaceful uses of outer space, here. This might be a good time to go back and review my posting about access to space. You have to get there before you can do all these things. This post from Power From Space blog provides links to all the companies involved in the race to place solar power satellites in orbit.

The main limit to human progress is the limit of the human brain. Humans are presently intelligent enough to get into a lot of trouble. If you are a singularitarian, you are pinning your hopes on intelligent machines, nanotechnology, and the exponential increase in knowledge. Personally, I prefer the idea of enabling more intelligent humans. Either approach holds risks, but the alternative is to let things take their current course. There are also problems with that approach.



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