Friday, November 13, 2009

Fantastic Future Friday: Space Based Solar Power II

In last weeks post Space Based Solar Power I left out some of the details in order to make it concise. Eventually I will merge all my posts on this topic into one long article but here is the next phase of Space Based Solar Power.

With more research and interest in Solar Cells they will become both more efficient and weigh less. It is a reasonable expectation that within 15 years solar cells will go from 14% efficient to at least 40% efficient (the range that the newest generation of solar cells are achieving), and that they will become lighter, hopefully half the weight of current ones.

With Solar Cells being in that range they will not only be useful for Space Based electricity but of course down here on Earth, as they become the roofing standard for south facing roofs.

Solar Cells on Earth have one big problem, night. Although battery efficiency will get better storing all the power you need to get through the night adds tremendously to the cost of Solar Power.

They also run into the problem that it is more efficient for heavy industries to gather together, so recycled steel can go straight to the steel pressing plant that sends their product straight to the assembly line, ect. It also allows industries to have a pool of semi-skilled workers available.

Without radically altering the lifestyle humans have been enjoying since the invention of fire we would still need a large power plant to handle these problems, that’s where the Space Based Solar Power Plants come in.

The best location for a Space Based Solar Power Plant to be built would be in a Geo-synchronous Orbit (GEO), high enough that it’s orbit around the Earth is exactly 24 hours, so it appears to be over the same spot at all times.

However it takes a lot more fuel to achieve GEO than LEO (Low Earth Orbit) so the first launch would need to include a upper, upper stage that was basically a ion propulsion Tug.

Ion propulsion uses electricity to speed up ions to extremely high speeds, making them very efficient but they have low acceleration. They also need a source of electricity.

As the space based solar power plant is built, it will use a super heavy lift rocket (like the Ares V) to lift small solar power plants that can generate power in the megawatt scale. As it's being built the power generated can be used to power the ion propulsion Tug, slowly lifting the parts from LEO to GEO.

The first few sections would be lifted months apart. Not only to give the tug time to lift the parts but for testing and problem solving phases. As more parts are lifted into GEO they can supply more energy to build the plant speeding up the process.

After the first power plant is built the amount of energy that Earth needs from it will be uneven with homes and businesses using Earth based Solar during the day and Space Based Solar at night, so the Space Solar Power Plant could be used to power the ion propulsion tug during the day lifting the parts and equipment needed to place a permanent base on the Moon.

One of the things that could be sent would be equipment to mine for Xenon and Argon to use as a propellant for the Ion Propulsion Tug. With power and fuel not having to be lifted from Earths surface the cost of moving material beyond LEO would become negligible.

Once robotic space exploration is freed from having to rely on fuel from Earth the Space Based Solar Power Plant could be used on something that would give mankind its greatest benefit. That power could be used to capture a Near Earth Asteroid.

Sending a probe to land on a small one and a half mile diameter Metallic Near Earth Asteroid it could unfurl a solar sail made of reflective Mylar, the power from the Solar Power Plants could be used to power lasers to steer it into Earth orbit.

Once it is within Earth’s orbit it could be mined for it’s metals, an Asteroid that size would have over $50 Trillion worth of Iron and precious metals such as gold and platinum, or roughly the World’s Gross Domestic Product for 2007.

With minor advancements in robotic manufacturing and unlimited energy from Space Based Solar Power Plants the whole system of scarcity based Economics will be a thing of the past as anything you can dream up, you can just draw into a diagram and robots will have all the necessary materials to make it for you within days.

Imagination and Creativity will become the new currency, not gold and gems. The human mind will be the most valuable commodity as simple stuff like iron, gold, gems become as cheap as air.

This will bring a whole new dawn for civilization and a fantastic future.


The Vegetable Assassin said...

You always have such thought provoking posts. I'm aiming one day to buy an old Airstream, renovate the crap out of it, fit it with solar panels and live/travel in it. There are so many great green options for living nowadays with appliances and so on, it's truly inspiring. I'm hoping by the time I'm ready to do all this, solar energy will have progressed enough that solar panels will provide 24 hour power in all weathers and make the need for hooking to the grid totally unnecessary and in fact allow people to put power back INTO the grid. I think also that the more countries or states that offer some sort of incentive or subsidization for people converting to solar based energy sources for their everyday living, would be long-term beneficial. It's such a great source of possibility.

Stephanie B said...

I'm skeptical it will ever be practical, but, you know what? I'd love to be wrong.

Stealth_mayhem said...

Just wanted to drop in and say thank for visiting my blog and signing the mclinky!

Project Savior said...

As far as the technology goes; we are closer to achieving this dream now, than when JFK said we should go to the Moon.
All we need is the will and the rather modest amount of money it will take.
As an added advantage all the intermediate steps, solar research, Super Heavy Lift Launchers, Ion Propulsion Tug to move things from LEO to higher orbits are worthwhile for their own sake.