June 03, 2013
Credit: NASA Concept
Tapping into the Sun's power and beaming it down to an energy-hungry planet is an idea that has been around for decades. Now, amid stark predictions that even the most renewable energy resources will be insufficient to sustain the Earth's population later this century, serious attention is beginning to be paid to how such grandiose schemes can be turned into reality.
Ambitious plans for one such internationally developed Space Solar Power (SSP) system to provide energy on a global scale by the middle of the century has been unveiled by a space pioneer, humanitarian and former president of India, Abdul Kalam. A long-time champion of space-based solar power, Kalam says first steps will include the establishment of a “world space knowledge platform” under which specialists from the U.S., India and other spacefaring nations will join forces to develop a “societal” SSP mission.
“This World Space Knowledge Platform, which is to be an International Virtual Laboratory, will take the form of a coalition of leading academic institutions in space and energy science and technology, [with] one or two in each of the partner nations. Guided and coordinated by the World Space Knowledge Platform's International Advisory Committee, they would be directed toward bringing out an International Feasibility Study for SSP,” says Kalam.
The study will be conducted by teams from a minimum of 10 nations interacting with an international “virtual laboratory” which should be funded “as a cooperative venture” costing $4 billion over five years, says Kalam. Unveiling the plan at the U.S. National Space Society's International Space Development conference where he received the Werner von Braun memorial award, Kalam says the target is to brief the feasibility study to upcoming summit meetings of the G8 and G20 nations.
The process will begin with the creation of a 20-page research document for “marketing” the benefit of the SSP concept to the spacefaring nations.
The initiative has been welcomed by other groups, such as the U.S.-based non-profit Space Solar Power Institute (SSPI). The group's executive director, Darel Preble, says: “Our government certainly should look more seriously at the proper pathway for America's energy policy toward Space Solar Power. There has been too little deep consideration about how to take advantage of SSP, our greatest clean baseload (24/7) energy source.”
However, while welcoming the spirit of the initiative, the institute criticizes the fiscal side of the plan. “It lacked money, but more importantly it lacked the necessary business perspective,” says Preble. “To create a viable SSP business is very different than sending a satellite to the Moon for science. It is instead like sending a satellite to orbit for a real-world business venture, such as a communications satellite. This is the only perspective that can create a functioning business.”