19 thoughts on “Space Solar Power”

  1. Still, expensive infrastructure. I have to agree with William Barton, that nuclear is hard to beat. There is one possible exception. Deep Well Geothermal electrical generation. Uses existing technology, carbon-free, renewable, low footprint, available 24/7, does not require mining of rare earth metals or radioactive material, nor handling/processing of same, nor is there a disposal problem at end-of-life. Just cap the wells.

  2. Hot rocks? We had one of those companies in Australia, lost plenty of people’s shirts.
    Severe materials problems. Who would have guessed that hot aqueous solutions of inorganic chemicals would corrode the bores? Turns out stainless steel isn’t.
    The only thing renewable about geothermal is the infrastructure required.

  3. I think space solar power would be put to better use by running a space-based linear accelerator to generate neutrons and produce short half-life radioisotopes, which could then easily be transported to Earth for use in radioisotope thermal generation. The advantage is that, operating in the vacuum of space, one can achieve arbitrarily high particle energies with linear rather than closed-track accelerators. For example, polonium 210 could be produced from non-radioactive precursor elements. As nasty as polonium 210 is, after 10 years each kilogram of it will leave 11.5 micrograms, and the daughter isotope is stable lead 206. In the meantime, it will have liberated 727.5 MW-hr of energy…per kilogram. The prospects for nuclear thermal space propulsion should also be obvious.

    It’s always better to have a concentrated energy source, and this route could clearly concentrate solar power in an unparalleled way.

    1. Mike, has this concept ever been written up in a paper? I ask because it’s the sort of thing I’d love to publish in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society.

      1. I haven’t seen it anywhere else, but I haven’t looked very far.

        Another breakout application would be using the accelerator neutrons to convert thorium into uranium 233. Thorium can be bought without many restrictions, and surreptitiously bought in any quantity with no restrictions. It’s a terrifically weak alpha emitter, but radiation nannies have been warring against its use in lamp mantles and tungsten arc welding sticks. But thorium is readily converted to U233, which is fissile – and thus a “special nuclear material”, heavily regulated. The application to space nuclear power is obvious.

        I’d be happy to write something, or co-author something, as long as it doesn’t run afoul of ITAR.

    2. Fascinating. So out in space somewhere either in Earth orbit or a Lagrange Point you have a giant solar array based satellite, powering up a powerful linear accelerator that providing a charged beam of alphas that hit a lithium (2.5MeV) or beryllium (4 MeV) target or other suitable neutron producing material than is encasing the precursor lead for neutron activation into a polonium isotope. So essentially the SBSP accelerator is activating a carousel of canisters that fall into the particle beam. Maybe with a few repetitions you end up with your fuel sources already in canister form?

      A very quick search shows there has been study in this area (paywalled). Because this paper was so easy to turn up, there’s probably been a lot of study.

      Charged particle to neutrons conversions also discussed a bit here .

      1. Actually not pay-walled, but not downloadable. You have to provide an email address to the author(s).

  4. Mining lunar water and making rocket fuel is cheaper way to do.
    Assuming there is mineable lunar water.
    Though what Musk is doing with global internet is another possible pathway.
    It think it would work maybe better with Mars settlements.
    So do Mars first and then Earth.
    The Moon would have worked without Starship.
    And we don’t Starship, yet.
    And don’t know if Mars has mineable water, or that Mars is as habitable as it’s said to be.
    Need a space station that gives Mars artificial gravity which can done, very cheap,
    And got to or should use Venus orbit to give launch window every year on average, rather than 2.1 years.

  5. Fossil fuels will have to be enough for the moment. Nuclear is the mid-term answer. IF we ever get fusion that might be enough, but it still looks to be decades or longer before commercialization.

    Thinking outside the box, SBSP doesn’t necessarily mean beaming low-density power down as Mike Kelly shows, and per Metzger, in the long term moving infrastructure to space frees up real estate and removes ongoing pollution sources from our environment.

    We’ve got the roadmap, we just need to not nuke ourselves back to the dark ages in the short term.

    1. “and removes ongoing pollution sources from our environment.”

      If the metals for the panels are mined off Earth and the panels are constructed and disposed of in space.

      1. Unfortunately, from what I’ve read in the past, the moon doesn’t seem to be a good resource for those metals. Am I wrong in this recollection? Maybe if a metal rich asteroid were corralled and brought in as a resource? Otherwise it’s up from the deep gravity well (er I mean) The (formerly) Green Hills of Earth….

  6. If the advocates claim one order of magnitude, that sill leaves one or two from reality. Terrestrial solar has been at “parity” for decades, except, “You want it after dark?”, that’s extra.

  7. It’s telling IMO that Elon Musk isn’t pushing it this; it would solve several problems he’s in interested in. Which says to me that he doesn’t think the economic case closes without massive subsidies.

      1. Which can’t be cut through when your Tesla in your attached or basement garage has set your house/condo/apartment building on fire.

  8. Heh. I was present for one of Pete Worden’s takedowns of SBSP. Of course, I was also an AF Captain who got to experience one of his patented ‘counseling sessions’ when I did something he thought was wrong.

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