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Friday, 18 November 2011

The Space Solar Power, Future Energy Sources?

“If the inexhaustible solar energy were to be captured in space it could be, in 30 years, an inexpensive solution to energy needs in the world only in condition that the states provide financial support”, reveals an international scientific group.

“Placing power plants on the orbit to collect solar energy and transmit it to Earth will be ‘technically possible’ within ten or twenty years, given the current technology”, found the International Academy of Astronautics, based in Paris. Such a project would be profitable within 30 years or less, according to the Academy, which has not defined a road map.

"It is certain that distributed solar power from space might play an extremely important role to meet the energy needs of the world's twenty-first century," says the study led by John Mankins who worked 25 years for NAS where he was director of prospective studies. The Academy is led by Madhavan Nair, former president of the Indian Space Research. The study was presented as the first international assessment of potential ways to collect solar energy in space and deliver it to Earth via a wireless power transmission.

“The study found that the private sector funding alone will not market the concept, given the time needed for its development and the "economic uncertainty" phase of development and demonstration”, said the study, which does not mention the total cost potential.

Solar energy from space is a possible long-term energy solution for the Earth, and has "essentially no impact" environmentally, according to the National Space Society (NSS) association. The association should have held a press conference Monday 13th November 2011, in Washington to make public the final 248 pages Academy report.

Converting Solar Energy Into Electricity

The general idea is to put on the geosynchronous orbit a one, then several, then a dozen of solar-powered satellites over the equator. Each apparatus (several kilometers wide) will be collecting sunlight for up to 24 hours a day.

The energy is converted into electricity on board and sent to Earth where needed via a large transmitting microwave antenna or using lasers and then injected into the grid. Skeptics believe this concept will fail, at least until the cost of orbiting a commercial power plant is divided by ten or more. Space debris is another obstacle, as well as the absence of targeted market research, and high development costs.

“A pilot project to explain the technology, even as huge as the International Space Station, could be implemented using easily replaceable and low cost launch vehicles”, declared John Mankins in a telephone interview and so did the president of Artemis Innovation Management Solutions, a consulting firm in California.

"It's A Start"

His company has a contract of nearly $ 100,000 with NASA dedicated for the space solar stations development research. "It's little but it's a start," said Mankins.

The study found that tens of billions of dollars would be needed to develop a sufficiently inexpensive reusable fleet to launch large-scale commercial solar satellites.

The interest of the international community for this concept has increased over the past decade, reinforced by fears of a peak followed by a decline of oil and other fossil fuels production. Not to also mention the search for new sources of energy to meet the rising global demand and concerns regarding the accumulation of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels.

The idea of harnessing solar energy in space has been studied for over 40 years on an irregular basis by the United States Ministry of Energy and NASA.

Basma – Green Energy International Correspondent – 14/11/11

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