From Moon Society President Peter Kokh
October 10, 2007 -- We are used to NASA being the source of most space initiatives. But times are rapidly changing. The Space Prize phenomenon, after the long awaited success of the X-Prize Challenge, now seems to have developed a self-sustaining momentum with prize-driven developments likely to become a major force in the realization of human activity into and in space. Now the Defense Department's National Security Space Office (NSSO) has led a study group to investigate space-based solar power (SBSP) and has found SBSP to be an especially promising way to reduce US dependence on foreign-oil and as a way to reduce global warming. At a National Press Club event, today, sponsored by NSS (the National Space Society), the NSSO released its findings. Buzz Aldrin was one of many notables on hand.
But NSS, determined to take maximum advantage of this opportunity, had put together in advance a 13-organization alliance to push Space Based Solar Power. SBSP is key to the very existence and focus of one of the two organizations whose merger gave birth to NSS in 1987, the L5 Society, which promoted the ideas of Dr. Gerard O'Neill to use lunar resources to build solar power satellites to secure an abundant clean energy future for Earth. Space Settlements would house the workers who assembled these satellites. The NSS Space Settlements Committee, of which I am a member, has been focusing on ways to promote a demonstration of the technologies involved. My own personal role has been to work on a 2-phase demonstration as more logical, and much less likely to raise opposition. Look for more on that in the November 2007 issue of Moon Miners' Manifesto.
As for the Moon Society, focused as we are on the creation of "an Earth-Moon Economy" which will involve substantial civilian settlement of the Moon, promotion of this scenario is very important. True, there are competing energy scenarios: Dr. Criswell's Lunar Solar Arrays, and Dr. Kulcinski's Helium-3 fusion, using relatively abundant lunar He-3. It is not the Society's role to favor any one of these scenarios over the others, but to promote the development of all three, letting "technology pick the winners."
A full list of the current thirteen members, see our article (thanks to James Gholston)
Society members invited to participate in NSSO study
• Dr. Peter J. Schubert, Senior Director for Space & Energy Research, Packer Engineering, Inc., Naperville, IL (Key Expertise: lunar ISRU, propellantless propulsion, hydrogen storage, nanotechnology, MEMS, materials processing – high temp and electronic, intellectual property creation)
• Charles F. Radley, Associate Fellow AIAA, Spacecraft Systems Consultant, Micro Aerospace Solutions, Inc., Key Expertise: Spacecraft Systems Engineering
• Arthur P. Smith, Cofounder Alternative Energy Action Network. Other affiliations: American Physical Society (employer), Brookhaven National Lab. Key Expertise: Basic physics & materials issues, economic analysis. Smith's blog study had caught NSSO attention:
Dr. Schubert is a current Moon Society Board member. Charles Radley is current Moon Society Vice-President. Arthur Smith served as a Moon Society Board member from 2003-04.
Also on the NSSO team is Moon Society Advisor Geoffrey A. Landis Ph.D., Scientist, Power and In-space Propulsion Division NASA John Glenn Research Center Key Expertise: Solar energy, advanced concepts, physics, electrical engineering. Several others are well known to us.
Advantages of this study being done outside NASA
The NSSO study will not compete with other missions and initiatives in the NASA budget. Nor will it be perceived as "another 'make work' scheme for NASA. The involvement of the Defense Department may alarm some, but as it is clear that the DoD wants private enter-prise involvement, the foreseen solar powersat network would be for the benefit of more than the military. In fact, the committee recommends that the US government be an "anchor tenant" only.
Most of important of all, as a DOD initiative, it is much more likely to be funded by Congress, than if it were to compete with Space Science and the Moon effort in NASA's budget.
Opposition is sure to come, especially from vested energy interests -- from those corporations who now have a stranglehold on world energy supplies and do not relish sharing the pie with newcomers. It is precisely to make an end-run around this opposition that, as an individual, I am introducing a 2-phase approach, concentrating on a first phase with enormous economic appeal but which will inevitably serve as a springboard for a complete system.
Coming in MMM -- Starting in the November 2007 issue of Moon Miners' Manifesto, we will run a series of articles on this very critical subject area.
A long road ahead
Much research is needed before we can start talking about construction of a demonstrator system. The SBSP study report also finds that:
"although SBSP holds great promise to deliver clean and renewable energy to all nations of the world, the potential environmental impacts of the various systems and mitigation options to minimize those impacts require greater study."
In short, we need to be sure that the system of power beaming through Earth's atmosphere has minimal impact on the atmosphere itself and on living creatures, both airborne and on the surface in the areas where the vast rectenna arrays will be located. Previous research had tended to indicate that such impact would be minimal and acceptable. But we need to be sure.
Significantly not mentioned
From our point of view, the deployment of hundreds of Solar Power Satellites makes environmental and economic sense only if they are built out of lunar materials. We have to work hard to make this point, based on early but careful analysis of several studies including one done by Seattle Lunar Group Studies (SLuG), the think tank of an earlier iteration of the Seattle L5 chapter, which indicated that a solar power satellite of set power output could be built of 92% lunar materials at a (greater) weight penalty of only 8%. This study needs to be repeated given what we know today, twenty years later. Earth-launched SPS systems would require thousands of very heavy lift vehicle launches, with an unacceptable environmental impact, defeating one of the two major purposes. But using lunar materials is going to raise alarm bells for some, though it is precisely what we in the Moon Society very much want to see happen.
Building an SPS from lunar materials means that we can not rely on using the latest in photovoltaic technology for low weight high efficiency solar energy collection. We must use cruder materials with lower efficiency. On the other hand glass-glass composite strut and space frame platforms could prove to be superior in many respects than construction using the latest in terrestrial metal alloys. It is imperative that glass-glass composite technology first demonstrated in the late 1980s as an effort of Space Studies Institute, but then neglected, be resumed in earnest and advanced up the "technology readiness scale."
Rectennas, the giant collectors needed to receive beamed energy from space, need not be built on empty barren, unproductive land. Studies to date indicate that they could be built over agricultural areas and other productive environments without foreseen problems. A rectenna "net" would spread over a few square miles.
NSSO recommendations for enabling legislation
The group recommends that both federal and state laws be examined to remove impediments and emplace enabling legislation. SBSP should be qualified for favorable treatment on the same grounds as other non-grid electrical suppliers such as small hydroelectric and wind power generators. "The U.S. Government should increase and accelerate its investments in the development and demonstration of key component, subsystem, and system level technologies that will be required for the creation of operational and scalable SBSP systems."
Further, the study reports its conviction that "a small amount of entry capital by the US Government is likely to catalyze substantially more investment by the private sector." "A national investment in SBSP may return many times its value." Energy companies concur.
To the reader
We recommend that in the interests of becoming better informed of all the identified issues, challenges, and opportunities involve, readers and members would do well to download and browse over the entire (pdf) report.
Meanwhile, the Moon Society, and Moon Miners" Manifesto, will take advantage of every opportunity to promote this venture, use it as a focus of our societal and chapter outreach, and help bring the public up to speed. It is unfortunate that Al Gore, in his book and documentary "Inconvenient Truth" did not focus at all on space based solutions.
We live on an island. It is just plain stupid not to fish in the sea.
Earth is an island, space energy & resources, our fish.
Kudos to the NSSO!
We can be proud of our Moon Society Involvement, which will continue. - PK