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« The Liberal Mind – Ridiculous Rules of Engagement (updated 14nov2011) | Main | Investors Playing the Odds »

14 November 2011


Greg Goodknight

Cue Darth Vader's theme from Star Wars. If Russia or China tried to build it we'd probably scream bloody murder.

It "appears to be economically viable in the next 1–3 decades under several different scenarios for future energy markets, including potential government actions to mediate environment/climate change issues"... reading between the lines, it may not be economically viable without cAGW alarmism putting a big fat thumb on the scales.

I'll believe it when private money thinks it can be built and operated with positive cash flow, without massive subsidies to build and above market rates for the power produced.

Dave Cranfield

I worked for NASA 1986-91 as a contract engineer. At that time we heard SSP was being bantered around in one of the many think tanks. Of course, the rumor around Johnson Space Center was a giant magnifying glass in the sky.

Michael R. Kesti

Wireless power transmission is currently at the lab curiosity level and there are currently no commercially viable techniques to be used terrestrially. This makes low earth orbit transmission distances seem unlikely in the next several decades and Geo-synchronous orbit distance even less likely. Also, given the current state of the American space program, I seriously doubt the ability to fly the required missions to accomplish such goals.

Ben Emery

Dang government programs moving us into the 21st century. This is going to kill profits of the fossil fuel industry. I have been saying this the entire time, it doesn't matter if you believe in global warming or not what matters is the world "market" has agreed that it exists and if we have a choice either to buy from or sell to the rest of the world. I favor selling to the rest of the world but that's me.

Steve Frisch

How dare the damn gubmint' invest I this!

Of course this is indeed good news. By the way did anyone notice that there was a bit of a break through in battery technology this week when one of companies I mentioned during the Prop 23 debate announced it had patented and is installing rapid charging stations at 10k each that take the recharge time for electric vehicles down to 20 minutes from the previous 5 hour normal time?

Greg Goodknight

You just can't help from entering with a sarcastic asininity, can you, Steve?

Burning coal elsewhere in order to run quick charge stations (which, I'd bet, are less efficient than slow charging) doesn't reduce CO2 or the real pollutants one whit.

George Rebane

BenE and SteveF - gentlemen, I do believe you may have again missed the point. SSP is not going anywhere unless and until the market determines that it is a viable alternative. And a vibrant competitive market will surely attract the appropriate investment to make it so once it does becomes viable.

And before anyone sprains an ankle happy dancing about how wise the government has been, they might want to review the history of solar energy beamed to earth - as usual, it was not a concept hatched in a bureaucracy. Here is more on the National Space Society and SSP -

If this had been a government program, the report's results would not have been announced at the National Press Club. We do have to keep in mind that the government is broke - it lives on borrowed money and bamboozling hapless lenders. But I do understand the mentality that all things good come from the collective.

Greg Goodknight

Tesla was way ahead of his time. Still is; it's hard to beat transmission lines for the transmission of electrical power, for reasons that are probably beyond the ken of those who've never taken a real E&M class.

Someday, the fusion nut will be cracked, and we'll have inexpensive energy without a lot of messy mineral extraction. In the meantime, growth is sustainable with known carbon fuel reserves and new generation fission reactors.

Directed energy devices in orbit would be a hard sell. Damn ewoks can screw it up, big time.

Russ Steele

I would like to remind readers that the sun is not a quiet stable power source, it is chaotic monster given to burping huge plumes of high energy plasma into space. When those plumes arrive at the earth, these bursts have fried satellite electronics and rendered them mute space junk. These geomagnetic storms occur regularly and they usually effect high northern latitudes, such as the in 1980s when one inflicted significant damage in Canada, taking down the power grid. I hope we are going to have some earth based back up systems, when this capability is developed.

I am wondering what kind of transmission antenna is shown graphic that shrinks the beam as it gets closer to the earth. All the space antennas that I am familiar with the beam expands with distance, not shrink.

Michael R. Kesti

The beam appears to shrink, Russ, for the same reason that the satellite, despite its appearance in this probably-not-intended-to be-taken-too-literally artist's rendition, is not actually larger than the planet. That reason is called perspective.

Steve Frisch

I, of course, went and did some research on the NSS before I posted my comment.

Are you seriously contending that this effort does not rely on government funded technology in launch systems, lift capacity, microwave technology, laser technology, computer technology, miniaturization, and a dozen other areas?

Who funded the microwave and laser research necessary to get the idea to this point?

I understand that the International Space Station is the most likely place to test the fibre laser systems that EADS is developing, which would be necessary to transmit the energy to earth.

Who funded the International Space Station?

Is this project not a legacy of the Glasser project funded by NASA in the early 70's?

Are you telling me that the NSS has not benefited from and used data gathered by the Satellite Power System Concept Development and Evaluation Program funded by Congress in 1978 to the tune of $50 million?

Is this project in any way using data or knowledge gained from the SERT program funded by Congress in 1999?

When it comes time to test or deploy do you seriously think the NSS will turn down help dealing with launch costs (which will be very high under current technology)?

By the way, what keeps this technology safe from theft or piracy in space? how is it possible that this investment is safe? Could it be because the United States and several other countries signed the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies in 1967, and followed up on that with several subsequent agreements guaranteeing the peaceful use of space and creating legal rights for companies investing in these technologies?

In your zeal to credit the private marketplace for every major advancement I fear that you are ignoring the incredibly important role collaboration between the public and private sector on research, development, and deployment of new technologies plays.

Steve Frisch

For the second time in two days a post was lost here. No messing with editing this time, I just posted and it disappeared. I guess I really need to adopt the every post in a text editor strategy.

George Rebane

SteveF - Did your comment post at first and stay there a while - i.e. you left the page and came back and it was still there? I want to communicate this to TypePad. But for the record, you are the only one I've heard from about this problem. And yes, please do compose in your favorite test editor.

George Rebane

Russ - yes, the 'artist conception' picture is not to be taken too literally. However, most of us understood that your beam width query was not due to your unfamiliarity with perspective, but a valid technical concern.

Recall from antenna theory that beamwidth varies inversely with the orthogonal dimension of the antenna (array), and directly with wavelength. To achieve the desired small receiving (illuminating) footprint on the ground, I suspect that a very large transmitting array, perhaps measuring more than a mile laterally, will have to be used. The individual elements will be directed so that a very small focal point occurs at the desired ground level point where the receiving dish(array?) is located. I haven't run the numbers, but in that case the transmitted beam from orbit will indeed narrow as it approaches earth's surface. Since they speak of non-synchronous orbits for these systems, the dynamic control scheme (with high bandwidth feedback from earth) will have to be very sophisticated indeed because they will be 'shooting' at a target in relative motion from two sources - earth's rotation and the orbital rotation of the SSP station.

Steve Frisch

George, I hit post after composing in the comment box, the comment appeared as posted after I hit post and then it was gone when I refreshed the page. Hope this helps.

Douglas Keachie

"But it sure looks like if SSP turns out a feasible promise to deliver all that clean energy, then surely it’s a’comin’."

How come you can't substitute solar panels for SSP and make the same statement?

Douglas Keachie

"Someday, the fusion nut will be cracked, and we'll have inexpensive energy without a lot of messy mineral extraction. In the meantime, growth is sustainable with known carbon fuel reserves and new generation fission reactors."

If needs are going to double in twenty years, can we even build or extract that fast? And what happens after 20 years if fusion, another pipedream, far less substantial than cheaper more efficient solar panel (and yes, I've actually been inside the National Ignition Project and seen all the laser beams concentration on one tiny pellet, and know of donuts of plasma), fails to come through and the needs keep on skyrocking. Do we still get "sustainable growth?

George Rebane

DougK 1056am - Who says I can't make the same statement? Please focus on my use of "feasible". Right now earth based photovoltaics require a considerable government nudge to produce power for us, and that nudge involves guns to our heads in several different ways. In the meantime, not to worry, we still have loads of cheap fossil fuels to take us to SSP and/or fusion and/or geothermal and/or ..., and even ground-based photovoltaics. (Funny that I haven't heard too much bitching about the collateral environmental impacts from covering the arid parts of the American west with solar panels. But that's another story.)

Planning for stasis in enterprises that involve new technologies has been a liberty-destroying bust.

Douglas Keachie

And since when do you see Space Power developmental and startup cost ebing paid for by private enterprise? Seems to me the same colorful guns will be pointed to our heads in order to make th work, and of course fusion's been sucking at the government tits forever.

George Rebane

DougK - You are right that capitalists will lobby government to come in and fund the early risky parts of SSP. I would not look kindly on that any more than I did on the VCs getting in with government in California's solar energy fiasco. But as long as huge rewards loom in energy production (creating even bigger income disparities), those that can will do it.

There is, of course, an undeniable role that government will play in SSP since the technology will also be a 'death ray'. It will need government oversight to make sure that no one gets fried either on purpose or by accident. Identifying and licensing the receiving sites will have legions of environmentalists and NIMBYs marching arm-in-arm. All of that went into my saying "*if* SSP turns out a feasible promise ..." - there are some high hurdles ahead and success is nowhere guaranteed.

Douglas Keachie

If feasible
Then spend gov taxpayer money ?


DO: spend gov taxpayer money
If feasible
Then turn over maxi-profits to private enterprise.

BTW, what do you make of those strange markings in the Chinese deserts?

Douglas Keachie

Orbiting satellite death ray stations are remarkably predictable targets for orbiting nuke torpedos, but of course, nobody has those, right? Gotta bridge for you....

George Rebane

DougK - Don't have a clue about them, but since we're talking about SSP transmissions, some of the structures (they're more than markings) could resemble receiving systems for microwave transmissions from orbit. The Chinese are a clever and secretive people.

BTW, future feasibility is a probabilistic notion. Technically, 'belief' is the label for an estimate of future probability. Belief has the same measure as probability. And beliefs, of course, are in the heart of the beholder.

George Rebane

Administrivia - if your comment disappears after you post it, please let me know immediately in a follow-on comment. I followed up on SteveF's 818am complaint with TypePad and found out that they automatically filter and sequester comments that they consider spam. Apparently SteveF's 809am got that treatment. With TypePad's directions I was able to retrieve it and publish it. This blog gets hit with tens of spam comments a day, which really surprised me (I understand blogs with good stats get flooded with them), and I had to go through page after page of the drivel to find the 809am. With your help, this should not happen too often any more, unless, of course, you disguise your comment as spam ;-)

Russ Steele


Thanks for the perspective clarification. I was looking at the small antenna and seeing a shrinking beam. As you said it will take a large array in space to focus on a smaller collection array on the ground. This large antenna array will present some control problems of it own, as it will act like a large sail, especially when added to the large solar collector arrays. Space is not empty and satellites get pushed around, the larger the collectors the larger the push. Even the Space Station needs a boost to a higher orbit from time to time as drag brings it closer to earth.

Steve Frisch

Hey George, thanks for taking the time to retrieve the post that was lost--and your private communication to me over it. I really appreciate the effort and concern. If there is anything we can do to not look like spam please let us know!

George Rebane

SteveF - no problem. It appears like one of the attributes that their spam filter looks for in comments is structure and the number of links. But commenters should not change their ways since the filter learns to recognize styles also from my going into the sequestered folder and retrieving non-spam comments. Just let me know as soon as you see your comment disappear, and I'll go fish it out ASAP.

D. King

Russ said

"This large antenna array will present some control problems of it own, as it will act like a large sail..."

The push will be constant as will have to be the repositioning.

May these ion thrusters.

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