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Solar Power Satellites by 2020? 226

soulfuct writes: "Finally, a national space agency has budgeted funds for a test project to convert solar energy in space to microwaves and beam them down to Earth. They plan to deploy this for use by 2020. Kudos go to the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) and Kyoto University for being the first to realistically act on the idea of solar power satellites promoted decades ago by Gerard K O'Neill in his book The High Frontier. With all of Bush's rhetoric about an energy crisis, why doesn't NASA latch onto this idea to secure more funding?"
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Solar Power Satellites by 2020?

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Seconded. Make Texas the first place to have its humans turned into TV dinners.

    Other countries to consider frying include France and Israel.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Only two things come from Texan ... queers and faggots. Kind of like California and India. Fuken dot heads.

    I have a friend who is Indian, Nakoruru. I don't know if it is a he or she since they all look the same. This is what I said to him/her when I first met it:

    Nakoruru, what is that, Indian? Go make me a slurpee, Nakoruru, and give me one of those little "wassup" ligthers, too. I love that shit. Is it true you people eat your own children? I think I'll pass on that hot dog, Nakoruru. I don't want to be muching on little Nakoruruette. Hey, what are you doing? Why are you unzipping your pants? Put your pants back on! Oh ... I get it. "Little Nakoruruette." Ha ha. Cripes, look at that thing. Looks like a fleck of curry. How do you wack off with that, wrap that little dot on your head around it? Okay, I gotta go Nakoruru. See you tomorrow morning when I get my paper and coffee, ya little sand nig you.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    DUH!!! Obviously, bush is saying this stuff because enough Americans (albeit an appearant minority) are environmentally savvy the Bush (or an advisor) has realize they need to be appeased somehow -- and the way politicians appease is by eloquent words that don't mean anything. Even if some people are aware enough to see through, the masses have beceom lulled enough here to scoff at them and say "Bush said it was a crisis, and he's gonna...."

    Personally, I'm not too comfortable with powerful microwave beening beamed at Earth. I think using all the potential space wasted in the form of roof-top for power might be better; snd using it to electrolyze hydrogen might not only be a good form of alternate auto feul, but a compact and effective (if not perfectly effcient) way of saving the power for a rainy day (pu intended) -- at least better than batteries or giant coils, I suspect.

  • Don't have the cash to pay off your loans? That's OK. We accept land.
  • This guy is totally off his rocker. There is the simple problem of free space path loss. Let us do the math:

    First, lets suppose you could invent an antenna that could produce a beam so narrowly focused that it would travel from geosynchronous orbit (~25,000 miles out (4e7 meters)) to earth and only spread into an area that is 500' (152m) in diameter (this is totally and completely impossible, but we will use it as a hypothetical example). so:

    a sphere has a surface area of 4/3*pi*r^3. That would be 4/3*pi*(4e^7)^3. Next, our receive ara is 500 sq ft. so pi*(152)^2. Using this, we convert to dB for simplicity:

    10* Log(4/3*(4e^7)^3 / (152)^2) = 185.6 dB gain. (yes, I've made some simplistic assumptions and simplified the calculations, so sue me).

    Lets assume the receive antenna is also capeable of an equally ridiculus and impossible gain. So we look at the Friis free-space equation:

    Pr = Pt*G1*G2*l^2 / (4*pi)^2 * d^2

    pr = power receive
    pt = power transmit
    g1 /g2 = antenna gains (not in dB)
    l = wavelength
    d = distance between antennas
    oops, out of time, someone else will have to finish this...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    His priorities are to get real, viable energy on the market at a reaonable price sometime in the nearest possible future. Solar cells are not ready for the kind of production increases we need. There are 2 seperate issues here, fuel and electricity. Fuel is expensive because supplies are limited because refinery capacity can not meet the demands of the "greatest economy in history" Same story with electricity. Demand is out stripping need and conservation is great but it will not take care of the problem. We need greater capacity so that this doesn't happen again down the road. It will happen again next year because it takes time to build. Lets just hope people wise up to the fact that it's liberal envirnmental and regulatory policy that caused this. I know you think he's a bitch to the oil industry, but you never question Clinton and his ties to extreme environmentalism and his inaction over 8 YEARS to do anything to solve this problem. Give Bush a break... he's only been in office for 4 months and he's doing more about the issue then Clinton in his 8 years.
  • Hemp is the fastest growing industrial plant in the world. It can be harvested 30 days after planting. It grows even better temporate (mid-atlantic, north-pacific, and south eastern) climate zones. If hemp were not demonized and it were allowed to be a very useful industrial crop, modern technology could cut down even that 30 day "waiting period" to next to nothing. Hemp does not even leech the nutrients out of the soil like corn does (which prevents multiple re-planting in the same area). It is by far the world's most useful illegal plant. Paper, cooking oil, clothes...anything can be made out of hemp. Pity.

  • Nuclear power is economical in cases where oxygen is at a premium. I can't imagine powering a submarine with coal, or a battery that would last a submarine three months...not to mention, you can use the excess electricity to split water and produce oxygen for the crew to breathe.
  • by hawk ( 1151 ) <> on Saturday May 19, 2001 @06:19AM (#211755) Journal
    And when they crash and send the beam in the wrong direction, we'll get the familiar "BSOD," or "Blue Sky of Death."

    Just what *did* you think that cloudy sky that shows up on the startup screen was supposed to mean?


  • As someone in the oil industry, I resent that. YOU people have done much to create the crisis with YOUR belief that only opec members should be allowed to make money in the oil business, and frankly that article of faith has done a lot of damage to our ability to fix things. (As has the behavior of the IMF in Venezuela, which really wasn't a nice way to make friends.

    As for NASA, part of the problem regarding solar power satellites is that it would require cheap launch. NASA, as I have seen over the past twenty-one years, wants billions upon billions of dollars so they can research cheap launch, but they also very much appear to not want to be successful. Looking at the way they mismanaged DC-X, eventually going with Lockheed's design for the X-33, which doesn't appear to have even been a good-faith effort, is kinda indicative of the problem. They went over budget 50% and are still roughly the amount of the original budget away from flying. Or were, when the program got cancelled. That much money in Roton, and we'd be able to launch solar powered satellites by now.

  • As someone in an industry that would be in competition with solar power satellites, from what I know of the design of rectennas for power generation, they would have a strong safety feature in that the waveform characteristics on the satellite would be created by a pilot beam sent up from the ground. They're basically designed so that the beam would be very wide, and locked onto the receiving array.

    For more info, check out the usenet group

  • With all of Bush's rhetoric about an energy crisis, why doesn't NASA latch onto this idea to secure more funding?
    Isn't it obvious? Because it wouldn't work, the energy crisis is a myth, except in California, where the crisis was created not by a lack of resources but by a botched deregulation. Comparisons with the 1970s are phony, there is no oil crisis, oil prices are prefectly reasonable.

    The real reason for Bush's "energy crisis" rhetoric is to funnel more money into the pockets of his friends in the oil business and to justify further destruction of the environment.


  • L5 in 95 was the bumper sticker mantra of the L5 Society. The solar power satellite concept was O'Neill's scheme to put humans permanently in space. He said it was the best place where a high tech civilization could thrive. Then he asked how can we justify the expense of building space habitats. His answer was to mine the Moon and build solar power satellites. And use the profits from the power sold to earth. to build more space habitats.

    If the power companies had only known! They could be reaping whirlwind profits today from California's energy crisis. They could be taking the satellites offline to repair meteorite damage. Claim the Moon or Earth is blocking the Sun. There's an ion storm. Help! Help! We're being attacked by Ewoks! ...but I digress.

    The society formed with the intention of disbanding on the first permanent space habitat. Sadly, this did not happen. By the time 1987 rolled around the L5 Society merged with the National Space Institute and changed it's name to the National Space Society. []

    Ack! I'm having flashbacks to my mispent youth:

    Senator William Proxmire: Are you now or have you ever been a member of the L5 Society?

    Witness: I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that you'll cut NASA funding and go and spend it on cheese subsidies.

    Bonus question: What does L5 mean? And which brand of foil is best to line my hat to protect me from the orbital mind control lasers?
  • Speaking of nuking cows with megawatts of microwaves, compare that with all the talk about 0.6 watts of cellphone radiation causing brain cancer.
  • Why would _our_ sunlight generally be decreased? We don't have to stick the sats in between the Earth and the Sun (although they will in the course of their orbits ocassionally do so) but generally stick them to the sides where they're getting light that otherwise goes into space.

    Remember the point of a Dyson Sphere? To collect wasted solar energy. Given the resources, we could put gigantic collectors above and below the sun leaving the ecliptic free. We're starting small of course, but it is, I think, better than what we have now. (hint: burning fossil fuels also generates heat as well as polluting chemicals which may cause greenhouse effects further changing temperature.
  • by Bwah ( 3970 ) <> on Saturday May 19, 2001 @08:49AM (#211762)
    The aircraft thing isn't actually a big deal.

    Go out and find (I would bet you could get some example off the net) an aviation sectional chart. You would be amazed at all of the areas marked off as restricted or off limit airspace. (Controlled airspace of all types, military training areas, missile ranges, etc.) Yes there are violations of these areas, and yes there probably would be some violations of uwave transmission beams ... but not very many! Any violation would probably be by private pilots.
    (Private pilots in general are pretty good at following the rules. In my exerience anyway. Mostly because the rules tend to make sense. However after spending some time with a few in Yuba county CA, I no longer believe that all of them even try to follow the rules. Or even get a license. Glad I don't live out there ...)

    Any incident with a IFR (read as: commercial traffic) aircraft running into a beam would be even more unlikely. Commercial pilots (the ones I've met anyway) are unbelievably paranoid about running into things. These are people who think of inter-aircraft clearance distances in terms of miles! They are very aware of where they are and where they are going. Soooo ... in order to have a commercial flight wander into a beam you would probably have to have both a ground controller and the pilot mess up. And all of the computers involved on both sides get messed up too (or ignored). Not very likely.

    The other worry you expressed about uwave interferance is not an issue. We would be talking about a direct beam here. The scatter would probably be quite small, and the restricted airspace around the beam would most likely be large enough to avoid that problem entirely.

    So in conclusion to the aircraft issue ... this is nothing new. Controlled access airspace has been around a long time.

    As far as birds go ... they are on their own ...
    I have a feeling that powersats would hurt far fewer birds than wind generators though.

    I think it could be fun trying to design orbits to avoid running any other sattelite with a lower orbit through the beam though ...

    In any case it would be good to work all of this stuff out now, with solar power. This paves the way for moving nuke plants (and hopefully fusion plants someday) off the surface and into orbit.

    wow, this is getting quite long ....

  • This has been talked about for many years. The trick is to do it safely. High-power microwave being beamed down to anywhere other than the intended receiver can be a serious danger. Imagine if that beam lands on, say, a person.

    The most obvious solution, and probably the one that will get implemented in one form or another, is for the receiver to transmit a homing signal for the bird to locate, and the power relay only gets turned on when the homing signal is locked in.

    One might wonder, though, what kind of danger could exist if some not-so-nice cracker got into the control system of such a satellite and aimed the beam at someone they'd like to cook...
  • spend your pie-in-the-sky R&D money developing some sort of photovoltaic asphault.

    Or hell, piezoelectric elements that generate power when compressed by cars rolling over them...

    Or put a generator into the pistons on NYC bridges.. (or anywhere there's vibration, for that matter)

    Your Working Boy,
    - Otis (GAIM: OtisWild)
  • Your average nuclear power plant is closer to 2 GIGAwatts

    Yeah but by the time you're done fooling around in the old west or the fifties all you have left is 790MW left..

    Your Working Boy,
    - Otis (GAIM: OtisWild)
  • I suggest reading Just say "No" to Energy Plan [] from the Cato Institute []. Here are some quick blurbs from the commentary:

    "energy markets, like most commodity markets, are subject to boom and bust cycles. Energy prices after adjusting for inflation have been plummeting more or less for 15 years. Investors took money out of production and exploration budgets because profits were hard to come by. The bust suddenly ended last year, catching almost everyone by surprise, and the boom is now on. Investors are scrambling to expand supply, but capital investments take time...High prices = high profits = increased investment = price declines."

    "...we're currently in the midst of a power-plant construction boom, with some 90,000 megawatts of new electricity capacity scheduled to come on line by 2002 and a staggering 150,000-200,000 megawatts by 2004. This will not only burst the electricity-price bubble but will probably produce an electricity glut in the near future. Similarly, so many billions are flooding into the natural-gas market today that futures contracts are being made at half the price of today's wholesale spot price. And high gasoline profit margins are inducing foreign refineries to enter the American market for the first time in decades and bringing new investment in domestic refining capacity as well. Barring some unforeseen supply disruption in the refining sector, gasoline prices will actually begin to decline slowly but steadily as the summer wears on."
  • All people who declare war on humanity (as I did that night) are great. We all have good intentions. But we're always wrong. There is no way to win the war on humanity.

    MOD THIS UP!!!! I wish all the neo-anarchists protesting humanity finally linking up around the world would understand this.

  • the energy crisis is a myth, except in California, where the crisis was created not by a lack of resources but by a botched deregulation

    The "Energy Crisis" in California is simple: there is more demand than supply. It has little to do with deregulation.

    Had there not been deregulation, I bet there still would not have been new power plants built (enviromental BANAism) and artificial electricity price caps in place, just like the current situation.

    Californians are (finally) going to have to pay the price for not building new powerplants. Of course, had true deregulation brought the actual cost of California energy to the ratepayers 10 years ago, I bet there would have been more public support (and more demand from power companies) for building new power plants.

    As they often say on Usenet, TANSTAAFL.

    However, California is only one state that disconnected the link between demand and supply. Expect that in other states whose regulatory bodies have tried to unliaterally "turn off economics" that there will be similar problems.
  • But then again, so are oil, coal, and nuclear power

    People forget about the dangers of our existing fossil fuel based electrictal generation system in the US.

    Coal fired plants release more radioactivity into the atmosphere than nuclear plants. Coal-fired plants operate at far higher temperatures and pressures than nuclear, and the risk of explosion is far greater. There have been more deaths in the United States with coal-fired plant accidents than with nuclear-plant accidents. Coal-fired plants require a significant transportation system (railway, barge/dock) to feed the plant. A nuclear plant can be fed for 18 months with a single delivery by a flatbed truck.
  • What about frying birds and such? Any environmentalists wanna comment? :)
  • The big global oil companies, particularly those that have some exposure to the environmentally-conscious European market, know which way the wind is blowing. At least some of them are spending money like crazy to make sure that they can take advantage of any trend to alternative energy.

    The smaller oil companies, the ones run by people like GWB, are the ones likely to be squashed if alternative fuels take off, and that is why they are buying . . . er, donating heavily do . . . politicians at the moment.

    Go you big red fire engine!

  • (Okay, so follow-up posts have clarified that the actul diameter would be much larger, but for the sake of humor...)

    A 10-foot diameter would be roughly the same size as the beam generated by the Sol satellite in
    "Akira []".

    So if any would-be Tetsuos out there: Look out! =)

    "Merging into heavy traffic at near light speed!"
  • I first heard the SPS idea discussed in a talk given by Jerry Pournelle around 1980 at MIT. My first impression was that it sounded great, and my second was that it was potentially worrisome to be aiming microwave beams at the ground.

    Apparently, though, the risks have been pretty carefully considered [] and the conclusion is that this isn't much of a problem compared to suntanning or eating a typical American diet. As pointed out elsewhere, this frequency is non-ionizing and therefore does not cause chemical reactions. It can heat you up in significant intensities but nothing more, and the intensities under consideration would cause only about as much heating as being outside on a hot day.

    From the website cited above: What if the beam wanders off from the rectenna? The beam can't wander off target with a significant intensity because it needs constant feedback from the rectenna for focusing. (A phased-array system is necessary for successful focusing onto the rectenna at such distances.) If it wanders off, then it immediately defocusses and disperses to a tiny fraction of its operating intensity. It also can't be used as a weapon for this reason. Even if it were re-engineered to point anywhere with the same focussing, the transmitters would be designed to operate at a relatively benign frequency (e.g., 2.45 GHz) which would not pose a credible threat to anyone. Again, the only thing that will significantly absorb the 2.45 GHz frequency beam is a receiving antenna designed for it.

  • I think there's rhetoric coming from the President too - the other day he was comparing the current situation to the energy embargoes of the '70s. I agree with you that things aren't that bad, which means that the President is exaggerating things. The reasons for his statements I'll leave to the cynics in the audience to explain :)

    Caution: contents may be quarrelsome and meticulous!

  • by Jeremi ( 14640 )
    With all of Bush's rhetoric about an energy crisis, why doesn't NASA latch onto this idea to secure more funding?

    Because they know that when Bush says 'we need to produce more energy', he means 'we need to dig up and burn some more dinosaurs'. He don't believe in any of that alternative energy mumbo-jumbo.

  • I'll do you one better than that... spend your pie-in-the-sky R&D money developing some sort of photovoltaic asphault. Then, every time a road needs to be repaved (and they all do, every 10-20 years), repave it with this stuff instead of regular old asphault. Hey presto, all that land area that we've already given over to roads now dows double duty generating electricity for us, and no extra space needs to be used. Hell, you wouldn't even need to transmit the electricity very far, as it could be used right there to help power the cars travelling on the road at the time. And since installation would be part of the repaving process that you're going to have to do anyway, the cost might not be too high.

    I have no idea if such a thing is possible or feasible, of course... probably worth looking into though.

  • If you discount a new idea because it's possible to accidentally kill people with it, well, enjoy your cave.

    WHAT? You would allow any old person to spend their time in a hole in the side of a mountain, under thousands of tons of rock?? Do you know what would happen to them during the next earthquake? Not to mention the obvious problems with grizzly bears, vampire bats, mold...

    Sorry, couldn't resist...

  • I don't know, cause it's fantasia bullshit?

    And what, pray tell, makes this any more fantastic than, say, nuclear power would have seemed to people in the 1920's, or airplanes to people in the 1700's? All the technology to make this happen is there, there is nothing in the plan that relies on new processes to be discovered. It's just a matter of willpower and investment.

  • Over-the-air power transmission on any scale larger than what's needed to power a bug (I believe the Russians did this) is too much of a risk

    Compared to the risk of melting the polar ice caps and flooding much of the world's landmass, or of fouling the world's atmosphere to the point that people can't breathe it without getting cancer or emphysema, maybe the risk isn't so bad.

    Putting it out in the middle of nowhere isn't really going the help when you still run the risk of frying anything that flies through the beam (last I checked I didn't think it was common practice for airplanes to reroute around deserts...)

    You must not have checked recently, because it's a very common practice. Anytime the military sets up a bombing range or testing ground out in the desert, the whole area gets marked as off-limits to civilian traffic, and everybody has to fly around it.

  • sounds like sour grapes to me, buddy. AYBABTU is always funny no matter how many times you see it and it's especially funny here because it's really happening. Poor little CA..... all high and mighty, self-righteous in your 'environmental' obsession at the expense of practical life. you made your legislative bed, now lie in it in the DARK! and think about what you've done before you cry to us to save you from the pit you so carefully designed all by yourself.
  • I bet you think that drilling in Alaska will solve our "energy crisis" RIGHT NOW?
  • I think you can make things much bigger in space.

    It's difficult to have a few hundred square miles of land on earth to collect solar energy. It's quite costly, but not a problem aesthetically to have a huge solar array in orbit. There might be problems with meteorites and similar crud, but there's also problems with wind storms and animals on earth. (not to mention to local kids...)

    Plus, you don't have as much energy loss in the atmosphere if you concentrate the energy in a tight beam.

    I think.

  • In thinking about these types of systems before, I've always wondered if there was some way to do it more efficiently than HUGE solar panels.

    So my preferred scheme for this is...

    Satelite 1: Orbiting the Sun Mercury distance and focusing sunlight on...

    Satelite 2: Orbiting the Sun Earth distance and transmitting the energy to...

    Satelite 3: Orbiting the Earth and beaming the power to the ground station.

    Figure this way you could collect large amounts of energy in a small space, while limiting the ability to boil away the oceans.

  • A quick back of the envelope calculation...

    800 Gallons of Ethanol/acre []

    US & Canada = 18.8 million square miles []

    1 acre = 0.0015625 square mile []

    800 * 18,800,000 / 0.0015625 = 9,625,600,000,000 gallons

    Now of course, ethanol isn't as dense as crude oil.

    Crude Oil has 6 million BTUs/barrel, ethanol has 3.7 [] (From the same source, the US uses 1 million BTU every 1.1 days per capita.)

    1 barrel = 42 gallons []

    So converting from gallons of ethanol to the equivalent barrels of oil:

    9,625,600,000,000 * 3.7 / 6 / 42 = 141,328,253,968.254

    the maximum average oil imports from February 1999 to February 2001 was 10,000 barrels / day. []

    This is 3,650,000 barrels per year. Or 0.002% of the theoretical maximum energy production of North America.

    Of course, this doesn't allow any room for food, factories, homes, or people. Or account for mountains, lakes, and poor soil. But it is reassuring. Because if we were using more energy than we could ever produce in our wildest dreams, we would hit that wall extremely hard when the oil runs out.

  • From the article:
    The direction of the beam's transmission was able to be changed.

    Grrreat, it's bad enough that this big device is up there beaming down enough microwave energy to power homes, and it might get accidentally shot in the wrong direction, but you're telling me that these beams can actually be manipulated from the ground? Am I the only one who gets terrified at the thought of some scr1pt k1dd13 who "owns" his first power satellite? Forget testing the viability of the power generation, I wanna see testing of the security. These things are just begging to be hacked, and I'm not interested in waking up baked by microwaves.
  • Surely the oil companies and their presidential puppet will not stand for this blasphemy.

    I know I'm going to get marked as a troll or flamebait for this, but here it comes anyway: Clinton had two terms in office, and Mr. "I Invented The Internet" Gore did what for the California energy crisis? The power problems in California didn't suddenly begin in January when Bush took office - they've been brewing for years. Never heard of Gore doing anything about it, did you? Hmm, don't hear Gore speaking up too much about that energy crisis, do you? Wonder why that is? I don't.
  • For all of Bush's rhetoric, his budget has already slashed funding for alternative energy research.

    Exactly. NASA used to do a lot of alternative energy research. In the early 80s, the NASA Glenn Research Center (then called Lewis) was doing research on the "rectennas" need to receive microwave energy from space power systems, as well as photovoltaic cells, wind power, Stirling engines, high efficiency gas turbine engines, continuously variable transmissions, and advanced battery and fuel cell research. Reagan and Old Bush canceled almost all of that.

    Today, NASA is fighting to keep their microgravity researchers from jumping ship since Bush II canned half the space station and there won't be enough people on board to do any science. NASA's administrator does whatever the White House says, so you won't see him proposing any alternative energy research. During administrator Goldin's recent congressional testimony he repeatedly turned down offers to restore some funding to cancelled research programs, saying that even if NASA were given the money, he "would stay within the President's budget".
  • The California energy crisis is the result of a horribly botched deregulation plan at the state level. The Bush and Clinton administrations have just about nothing to do with it.

    What the Bush administration is doing is pushing the idea that's there's a nation-wide energy crisis, or the threat of one. This is nonsense, but Bush wants to let his Big Oil buddies drill wherever the hell they want, and hopes the threat of $3/gal gas will do a lot to put the public on his side.

    Back on topic, I doubt that Bush would be interested in satellite power. First, there wouldn't be any significant progress made before the next election. Second, it doesn't help his big campaign contributors. Bush has shown no interest in alternative energy sources.

    Gore, on the other hand, had a set of measures designed to encourage such things, such as money for research and tax breaks for people who drive ultra-low or zero emission vehicles.

  • While a great ide, its also too dangerous a weapons system. I'm not concerned with the beams accidently drifting of the receiver, there are ways to fix that, but try to convinve the public of this.
  • To make it really fail-safe, make some critical part of the microwave generating equipment up on the satellite powered by power beamed back up from the ground station. And that is powered by the power from the satellite. So, if the beam from the satellite ever leaves the receiver, the power quits going back up to power the first-stage oscillator or whatever, and it shuts down automatically.
  • Absolutely true, and it accounts for 3/4 of the two-fold difference in the energy it takes to make a dollar of GDP between Europe and the US.

    The remaining quarter of the difference is in energy efficiency. Closing the energy efficiency gap would conclusively solve the energy "crisis", much more so than the small increment of production Bush is proposing.

  • there is a benifit to doing it in space. they dont have clouds in space. the power production would be constant. this is something that isnt always achieveable on earth.

    use LaTeX? want an online reference manager that
  • (1)By the time it's "mostly harmless," won't it be sufficiently low-energy to be completely useless?

    The atomspheric energy absorption is not high enough to make this inefficient and does not really contribute to making this *mostly harmless*. The reason it becomes *mostly harmless* is due to dispersion of the beam over a large area. So, a larger antenna is used to pick it up.

    People need to check out the solar power satellites link cited in the post. The safety details have been addressed long ago.

    Too many folks won't read the reference links, so to elaborate on the safety issues:

    • The highest beam energy on Earth's surface at any point on or off the antenna array will be less than that produced by talking on a cellular phone. (About 26 milliwatts per square cm.)
    • The real problem is holding a microwave beam tight enough to carry useful energy over the ~23,000 miles from geosynchronous orbit to Earth. This will be done using a large phased array transmitter. It uses a transmitter array of many small emitter modules synchronized and phased together by a pilot signal from the center of the receiver antenna array. If the pilot signal is lost, the emitters rapidly unsynchronize and the power sat's energy is dispersed over an area several times that of the entire planet, dissipating it down to essentially zero energy at any one spot.

    In other words, only when the emitter array is phased together can it be said to be transmitting a beam at all, rather than frittering away its microwaves in all directions, mostly into deep space. No pilot signal, no synchronization, no beam, no cities fried like anthills.

    Sorry, Dr. Evil, but that's the way it is.

  • Sorry, this idea has already been patented by first right by the developers of Sim City 2000. (tm)

  • I'm not interested in waking up baked by microwaves
    You will know when you are being microwaved though - all those AOL CDs will start arcing electricity before frazzling themselves to death. Should give you ample time to get into your metal lined anti-microwave-attack bunker.

    I never thought that AOL CDs were a worldwide early-warning system against Microwave attacks from nasty dictatorships.

  • ...thinks that renewable alternative sources of energy are not "practical" enough to seriously research and fund, but a fancifal multibillion dollar ballistic missile shield is...

    ok, that's my political troll for the day...just thought it was ironic
  • With all of Bush's rhetoric about an energy crisis, why doesn't NASA latch onto this idea to secure more funding?

    I don't know, cause it's fantasia bullshit?
  • I just hope they calculated with the energy spent on bringing those solar panels in position. A rocket uses huge amounts of energy to enter orbit.
    And what about maintaining.. they gonna send electritions up to the moon when things break... sounds rather costly :)

    The first is a good point.

    Actually, making the solar panels on the Moon isn't that bad an idea. Or at least grabbing more of the resources from there, a lot less costly (in energy) to move mass from the Lunar surface to geosysnc earth orbit than from the Earth's gravity well.

    Same for electricians, really, given a lunar base/factory.
  • Mr. "I Invented The Internet" Gore

    You know, every time someone trots out that tired phrase, they instantly lose credibility.

    I'm not going to go into the reasons why his "claim" wasn't a claim at all, and even if it was, the people who *did* invent the Internet backed him. It's not worth the old arguments.


  • by selectspec ( 74651 ) on Saturday May 19, 2001 @06:55AM (#211826)
    With all of Bush's rhetoric about an energy crisis...

    Slow down cowboy. The rhetoric is coming from the media, not the President. The media-mantra for the past three months has been that the energy crisis will bring down the presidency. Meanwhile gas prices are still cheaper than in 1999 under Clinton and considerably cheaper than in 1978 under Carter. As for the power crisis in California and the potential for a future shortage nationwide, I dont see any rehtoric at all. Clearly there is a short term crisis in California, and a long term problem for the rest of the country. While I am all for science R&D, statements like yours are rediculous. Commercial orbiting solar power stations are many years from becoming a reality along with fusion and mid-ocean tidal power plants. These technologies are exciting and certainly deserve funding and our interests. However, penciling in preposterous "unproven tech" in a national policy has already gotten Bush in trouble with Missile Defense. Do you suggest that he do the same will all of his policies?

    There is no world conspiracy to drive up gas prices in the United States other than OPEC. Outside of the OPEC nations, the U.S. consumers enjoy the cheapest gas prices in the world. The energy crisis is one of refineries and a lack power plants.

    Conservation is important, but what is more efficient, spending resources to become more efficient or spending resources to generate more power. Look at software engineering. Is /. authored with a custom C-solution. It would be alot faster than perl and appache. Why bother with an OS. Why not write an embedded system, it would be more efficient. Why use a generic relational database and not write something spesifically for your needs. Efficiency does not always translate into better (look at Java, Perl, Python, etc).

  • O'Neill's projections in the original edition of "The High Frontier" were a primary inspiration for Keith Henson [] and his, then, wife Carolyn Meinel [] to found the the L5 Society []. In those estimates, O'Neill took NASA's estimates of the cost per pound to LEO for its space shuttle launches and actually doubled them -- this despite the fact that he assumed an even more economical vehicle than the shuttle: the Shuttle-derived Heavy Lift Vehicle. With two layers of conservativism built into launch prices, O'Neill came to numbers that are radically different than those recalculated with the reality of enormously higher costs per pound to low earth orbit of the real space shuttle, or any of its alternative launch systems in operation. In that original edition of The High Frontier, it was stated that by 1990, people could be living in earth-like space habitats floating in one or more Lagrange points of gravitational balance in cis-lunar space -- said habitats being constructed primarily from lunar material and the people resident in them primarily to work on the construction of solar power satellites -- again -- primarily from lunar material.

    So far as I can see, O'Neill's approach -- that of using nonterrestrial materials -- is the only way solar power satellites will ever prove economical -- with the possible exception of some proposals for urban illumination from earth-oribing mirrors. Sadly, I've seen very little in the way of studies of how to make non-terrestrial resource utilization work coming from mainstream corporate (or governmental) sources.

    Since the early 1980s, when it became apparent that NASA's predictions for Shuttle economy were enormously optimistic, there has been a lot of thought put into how to create human-guided self-replicating raw-material processing facilities on the lunar surface and in space as a way of bootstrapping a huge industrial manufacturing infrastructure in those locations. This at the same time as technology has advanced in the relevant areas, thus bringing the cost of such a self-replicating "seed" facility, put in place in space or on the lunar surface, much closer to the level that might make private investors interested.

    Ergo, what is needed is a "technology development initiative" by the government, but a release from taxation, those businesses that are pursuing relevant milestones toward the establishment of these capabilities.

  • Wow we can now cook birds in flight. I wonder what the effects of microwave radiation are on life? Does it disperse on particles in the atmosphere? Will it heat particles/clouds in the atmosphere? Does mild exposure mutagenic? Hmm, I'm totally skeptical of this technology. Perhaps we could use it in space to move around energy, but I don't know about space to earth..

  • You can see a breakdown of the new budget for renewable energy here []. Funding for solar has been cut 49%, as has wind power.

    At the same time, Bush plans to build 1,300 new power stations whilst opening the Alaska wildlife reserve for oil exploration.

    Does anyone else feel Bush was voted in the wrong decade?

  • Actually, the reason why such a large antenna array is needed on the ground is due to the diffusion of the beam. By the time it gets to the surface, it is *mostly harmless* or so it has been said over the years by its proponents. O'Neill and others proposed the construction of a large mesh array antenna that would pass sunlight and could be situated over cattle grazing land. Feasibility studies have been done in the past, and the only real problem was the construction cost in space.
  • by soulfuct ( 91305 ) on Saturday May 19, 2001 @07:04AM (#211838)
    (1)By the time it's "mostly harmless," won't it be sufficiently low-energy to be completely useless?

    The atomspheric energy absorption is not high enough to make this inefficient and does not really contribute to making this *mostly harmless*. The reason it becomes *mostly harmless* is due to dispersion of the beam over a large area. So, a larger antenna is used to pick it up.

    People need to check out the solar power satellites link cited in the post. The safety details have been addressed long ago.

  • Oh, you mean that one the two wealthy oilmen have been talking about? Please.
  • by Andre060 ( 99353 ) on Saturday May 19, 2001 @06:21AM (#211841)
    ... in which one of the disasters was one such power station accident in which the sattelite beamed the energy slightly off and fried everything?

    Even in circumstances where it is "aiming" properly, wouldn't this be a problem for bird and airplanes? If I can't even use my cellphone for fear of interferance in the plane, what about giant beams of microwave radiation??

  • Please. The 'energy crisis' has become an issue only since the election; Bush made an 'energy policy' one the primary planks of his election platform. Remember the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve? Who might have brought that into discussion? Why? Since the election, two of the four-or-so major actions of the white house - cancelling Kyoto, and the new energy policy - have concerned energy policy. In fact, one of the primary reasons stated for cancelling Kyoto was because the CO2 limitations contained within it could not be sustained due to the 'energy crisis'.

    A quick trip to reveals the following from a speech Bush made concerning energy:

    But if we fail to act, this great country could face a darker future, a future that is, unfortunately, being previewed in rising prices at the gas pump and rolling blackouts in the great state of California.

    My administration has developed a sane national plan to help meet our energy needs this year and every year. If we fail to act on this plan, energy prices will continue to rise. For two decades, the share of the average family budget spent on energy steadily declined. But since 1998, it has skyrocketed by 25 percent.

    If we fail to act, Americans will face more and more widespread blackouts. If we fail to act, our country will become more reliant on foreign crude oil, putting our national energy security into the hands of foreign nations, some of whom do not share our interests.

    I don't want to quote the entire thing; read it for yourself []. Also pass a glance at the National Energy Report []. Read this article in The Economist [], this article (also in The Economist) [], CNN has an easy-to-digest overview of the positions of Bush and Clinton, as well as some articles [] on the matter. Note, in all of these articles, where much of the article's substance comes from: Bush. Bush himself makes clear his long interest in the subject matter.

    All that being said, what else has happend in the past year or so which might have precipitated this crisis? California finally felt the brunt of it's flawed deregulation; fuel prices have risin since their historic lows of 97/98, and ... that's it. Oh, and Bush came into office. In short, this 'crisis' - if there even is one - is in the public's mind largely because Bush considers it important.

    As for the substance of Bush plan on the environment, read the report yourself, as well as some of the articles I linked to. It is not simply technologies which are 20 years away which have seen funding cut, or been ignored; technologies which currently work, but are not widly used, have had what research funding they have cut. The vast bulk of the energy plan concerns building of new refineries, plants, distribution lines and extraction points, as well as environmental deregulation. (It is important to note, again, that a mere two years ago, energy prices were at historic lows; since then, as prices have risen, the invisible hand of capitalism has moved in and plans for new construction of these very same elements of energy infrastructure have appeared).

    Enough long-winded ranting.. I just want to see what technologies we have, twenty years from now, for energy.. so much cool stuff is coming down the line.

    Linus has,in fact,grown,and explosively-JonKatz

  • No solar panels increase albedo, big time. Hardly any of the solar energy that hits them is converted to electricity. Instead it's all converted to heat, solar panels are black after all. Plain sand has a very low albedo being very light color.

    Didn't you read the artical and see what it said on how large-scale use of solar would cause a large increase in the absorbtion of sunlight?

  • by Catbeller ( 118204 ) on Saturday May 19, 2001 @08:00AM (#211852) Homepage
    Well, the world isn't the United States. For one thing, the U.S. is home to the world's largest oil companies, which aren't all that interested in anything not coming out of the ground. Another, LAND. Solar farms don't work in Japan, which is, to put it gently, overpopulated. Countries like Japan or England or Germany can't unroll miles of mylar on the ground. Solarsats take all the infrastructure and move it into space, where's there's room.

    They are also permanent. Besides the beaming equipment, which I assume burns out after time, the solar cells last for a long, long, time.

    And a solarsat isn't fragile -- there is no wind, no rain, no earthquakes, no gekkos. It just works, year after year.

    As for cheap, after the initial construction, whatevcer it costs, the sat just keeps paying for itself, without stopping. The well doesn't run dry, there are no spills. And we don't have to pave over the deserts, either.

    Not that your idea isn't good! It is pretty cheap to panel desert areas.

  • No geckos, but how about space debris?

    There are great many pieces of small debris floating around in orbit after few decades of space program.That's why you have armor plating all over the place in ISS for example. 2mm piece of white paint can be a bitch if the Delta-V is several km/s.

    So, yes, there will be wear and tear.
  • just hack into one of these.

    pick a logo for this thing :

    "They plump when you cook 'em"


    "Just like ants under a magnifying glass"

  • With all of Bush's rhetoric about an energy crisis, why doesn't NASA latch onto this idea to secure more funding?

    I would think that the answer to this is obvious: it doesn't involve improving the lot of existing mineral extraction industries. Remember that Dubya is the guy who proposed cutting funding for alternative energy research by 30% as part of his overall energy program. After all, he doesn't want to risk hurting his friends in the oil industry. Something that could actually replace fossil fuels is exactly what Dubya doesnt' want.

  • This reminds me of a joke I read a long time ago, forget where from:

    "Hey, did you hear? They're going to send a spacecraft to the Sun!"

    "Wow... isn't that dangerous? The Sun is so hot!"

    "Well yeah, normally. But they're going at night."

  • So, if the microwave emitter lost the laser "signal" from earth (which would presumably only be receivable on a perpendicular to the ground)

    Please correct me if I'm wrong, but the only geosynchronous orbits are above the equator. The further a satellite's orbit moves from the equator the wave pattern we typically see representing its traversal across the earths surface grows in amplitude.

    If the reception site must be directly below the satelite, that means it will not be in the United States. I would suspect George W. Bush is loathe to put US funded energy sources outside US borders...(considering how critical energy is to the sustained growth of the US economy...)

    However, I don't see why the beam would have to be perpendicular to the ground. If they do not have to be, a satellite in geosynchronous orbit could beam the energy to a facilities 30 degrees north of their position, which would put them within the continental US.

  • by HuskyDog ( 143220 ) on Saturday May 19, 2001 @08:04AM (#211866) Homepage
    I think you can make things much bigger in space.

    What a load of old rubbish

    List of large man made objects in space:
    - International space station
    - Ummm

    List of large man made objects on earth:
    - Empire state building
    - Super-tankers
    - Pyramids
    - etc etc etc

    It's not difficult to find large areas of land for collecting solar energy. What do you imagine is in the sahara desert? Well, basically there is a great heap of nothing and lots of sunlight. Yes, there's no people, but running electricty through some cables to europe would still be heaps cheaper than this stupid space idea. And you need lots of room for the receiving antenna anyway.

  • by HuskyDog ( 143220 ) on Saturday May 19, 2001 @08:14AM (#211867) Homepage
    Why do we need to use solar panels at all? There are lots of other ways to convert sunlight to electricity which are both cheap and practical provided that you make them big enough.

    Three that come to mind:

    - Giant circular greenhouse with a huge tower in the middle. Air in the greenhouse gets hot and rushes up the tower which contains a turbine. Cool air enters round the edge. This works and there is a great big prototype somewhere in spain (anyone got any links?). You can grow crops in the green house except for the bit right in the middle where it gets a bit drafty.

    - Mirrors like hugs bits if guttering which focus sunlight onto metal pipes with oil in. Oil gets very very hot, boils water, turbine etc. I believe that there are a number of plants like this working in the USA.

    - Windmill. Sunlight heats ground, air rises, cold air rushes in and turns blades on great big fan up a tower. Quite a popular solution in many parts of the world.

    I predict that all of these solutions will be substantially cheaper than this stupid space power idea until long after all of us are dead.

  • As others have pointed out, it's still a navigation hazard. And you do have to worry about birds falling out of the sky and all.

    I remember reading about this idea in futurist books as a kid, and by the time I stopped being interested in this sort of literature (just don't pick much of it up anymore) the idea was already being dismissed. Okay, it diffuses. But that's not much help.

    Over-the-air power transmission on any scale larger than what's needed to power a bug (I believe the Russians did this) is too much of a risk. It's an interesting idea that I think someone floated without really giving a lot of thought to it. You could probably do a ground-based version with a massive solar array and a waveguide to pipe the energy where it needs to go, but that would sort of miss the point of the technology, wouldn't it? Putting it out in the middle of nowhere isn't really going the help when you still run the risk of frying anything that flies through the beam (last I checked I didn't think it was common practice for airplanes to reroute around deserts...)

  • My math estimates a few thousand square miles of 5% efficient (at 1% overall system efficiency) collectors would satisfy all our energy needs. (If you think that's too much area, imagine explaining how much area would be paved over in 2001 to a guy from the 19th century. It can be done.)

    My question is not "can it be done?" but (environmentally speaking) " should it be done?" Think of all the mile of nature destroyed on our already over-crowding planet. Some of the solution, of course, may involve population (which may "solve" itself with disease), but in mean time, perhap better plan would be more efficiency / less waste. It may be that this (alone) is not the best way -- but if it were efficient it might be help. And using on the massive wasteland of city and suburban roof tops might just be a good idea.

    Of course, I suppose ecconomics could get in the way (damn if I don't hate captitalism and suspect its the best we can hope for at the same time).... :(

  • And your pathetic economies will shrivel and die without the American market place to sustain your industry. Then, when you are the lowest point of economic strength, we will offer a bailout package to you and we will own you.
  • I just hope they calculated with the energy spent on bringing those solar panels in position. A rocket uses huge amounts of energy to enter orbit.

    And what about maintaining.. they gonna send electritions up to the moon when things break... sounds rather costly :)

  • Several Bad(tm) thoughts (forgive me, it must be the tequila hangover from last night):

    Don't give it to NASA, that's the place you send stuff you want to kill off.

    We could put put bunches of this stuff along the desert near the US Mexican Border. Not only will we get power, but since the facilites each cover a mile or two, they will act as a natural wall stopping illegal immigration

    Yes I know it's sick.

    Quit it already with the baseball bats

    Check out the Vinny the Vampire [] comic strip

  • rhetoric is coming from the media, not the President

    The Government && their corporate media cronies are purposefully whipping up a straw-man 'energy crisis'. There is no fucking energy crisis.

    The screwed up thing is Americans dont realize you cannot live a wastefull, consumer-driven, styro-foam laden, convenience packaging, etc etc life and NOT have problems with energy... America spends more energy to make plastic straws than some third world countries use in a year.

    America will have these 'energy crisis' forever until A) their thirst for energy destroyes the plant. B) their thirst for energy causes the world to descend into a horrific war C) They wake the fuck up and stop wasting energy on 'The American Way of Life'.

    America - your 'energy crisis' is because you act like children in a candy store - too hopped up on sugar to know whats good for you... you eat and eat and eat until you end up sick to your stomach.

    I just hope the rest of the planet can get their shit together and stop letting America try and lead us into the same oblivion.

  • if you can transmit enough energy to power a city, you can also transmit enough power to destroy a city. there is also the question of leakage. even if you use a maser format to transmit the energy, there will be a certain amount of bleed over. a standard satellite broadcasts 5 watts of signal, a dss about 35 watts. a solar satellite broadcasting a few megawatts may very well blank out all other satellite communication.
  • This has been one of those Real Soon Now (tm) projects for years, for a simple reason - assuming your solar cells are made of silicon or something of similar density, the mass of an SPS (solar power satellite) big enough to generate useful amounts of power is prohibitive.

    Here's my calculations:
    Assuming a solar cell 1m to a side and 1mm thick, we get: 0.001m^3/cell * 2330 kg/m^3 (the density of silicon from Webelements []) = 2.33 kg per cell.

    The solar irradiance at Earth's orbit is 1367.6 W/m^2 (from NASA National Space Science Data Center []). We currently have solar cells that can convert solar energy to electrical energy at about 30% efficiency in the labs. So, we'll assume that these can be made in bulk sometime in the near future. That yields 1367.6 * 0.3 = 410.28 W/m^2.

    That seems like a lot, but consider - it four 100 watt light bulbs, or your computer (no monitor), if you have a system like mine. Lets say we aim for a generating capacity nearer to your average nuclear plant - 2 megawatts. Then we need 2,000,000 / 410.28 = 4,875 panels. At 2.33 kg each that's 11.4 metric tonnes. Not a huge amount, but then you have to add about that much in support structures, repair equipment, and the microwave emmitter, of course.

    You will note that I have ignored losses in transmission, etc after the power is converted from solar to electrical. That is because these conversions are all very efficient, compared to the solar/electrical conversion, so they don't change any mass calculations by that much.

    So how many SPS units would we need to power the world? From the CIA World FactBook [], the US in 1998 used 3.365 trillion kWh, equivalent to a continous 384 million kW. We would therefore need about 200 thousand of the 2 megawatt stations considered above, for the US alone. If we wanted to be generous and extend this technology to the rest of the globe, we need over 2 million stations of this size.

    Now, this is clearly not economical, not with launch costs in the neighborhood of $500/kg for the Shuttle (some dumb boosters can haul more for only $100/kg), but there is still hope. John S. Lewis, in his book Mining The Sky [] shows that building SPS units is economical, if you don't have to launch the mass of the solar cells. Instead, you bootstrap - launch a processing facility to a target Near Earth Object, set down and start making solar cells. The facility would have to be unmanned, but it would in a few years time produce enough cells to build a SPS.

    One thing's for sure: You sure won't see any of this from NASA. They'd like it if you gave them the trillions of dollars it would take to build one of these, so they could fail miserably and call the whole idea impossible.

  • With all of Bush's rhetoric about an energy crisis, why doesn't NASA latch onto this idea to secure more funding?

    It couldn't be because NASA still doesn't have a new Administrator, could it?

    Seriously, the fact that we're 100+ days into the Bush Administration [which I helped vote into office] yet do not have a NASA Administrator--despite having plenty of excellent candidates inside and outside of NASA--is a travesty. It's high time for Bush and his staff to make their pick and get rid of Dan Goldin, who's set NASA back at least ten years.

  • I will use my orbiting solar power stations of death to destroy the world's cities, unless you pay me 10... Million dollars!

    C'mon, throw me a fricking bone here...

  • convert solar energy in space to microwaves and beam them down to Earth.

    Not that greenhouse gases & whatnot aren't speeding global warming along enough on their own - we'll just lend them a helping hand by superheating a few more cubic miles of atmosphere.


  • there's no light in space remember all the space pictures from light

  • that was meant to be a joke...forgot to write: ...joke
  • I doubt that targeting would be the problem, unless the collection site was in a geologically unstable site. Suppose for a moment, that equipment was setup in California, to recieve microwaves and convert them to usable electricity. Suppose now that there was seismic activity which cause the reception equipment to go out of alignment with the space based delivery mechanism. Not only would the area have been ravaged by an earthquake, but also the power generation capability of the region would be disabled. Not only would I not be able to get power to my house because the lines were severed, but there would simply be no power to be had. This will make for difficult selection of reception sites for this system. It must be in a geologically stable region, with consistant weather conditions (for predictable gain) and there are probably a number ofother similar considerations.


  • by nightfire-unique ( 253895 ) on Saturday May 19, 2001 @08:41AM (#211918)
    Hi Ellen.. (moderators - I know this is offtopic but please don't kill my karma :)

    I think you're right about the transmit and receive angles.. that throws a wrench into my theory. :)

    But about my "all men are great before declaring war on humanity," it's actually something that I uttered on IRC while I was talking to my brother. I kind of snapped one night while reading something (I can't remember exactly what it was, but it was something about a person who was imprisoned for something that I don't consider to be wrong). I'm one of those liberal anarchist apologists. :)

    Anyway I always considered myself to be a good person.. but every time I read something about a grevious misjustice (guy thrown in jail for 5 years for smoking weed.. 15 year old thrown in jail for "abusing" 16 year old girlfriend (because consent is not possible when you're only 16. Ahem.) or intellectuals threatened or jailed for speaking their mind) I would feel this hate for the perpetrators (read: conservative/religious folks in a position of power). Anyway this one night I was talking casually (on IRC) to my bro about this article I was reading, and it eventually degenerated into a heated argument (only for the sake of argument; he agreed completely) and I started to imagine myself killing the judge.. the police officers.. and anyone involved with removing this person from society. I was totally convinced that I was right, and that the only way to stop the world from destroying itself was to kill all the people who aggressively hunt people they disagree with (whether or not the "criminals" were hurting anyone). This article really fucked me up at the time.

    I was in this sort of quiet rage for about half an hour.. when suddenly I realized.. what the hell makes me so damned special? What differentiates me from the people I'm fantasizing about killing (while yelling fuck you agressor - you incarcerate innocent people, you die). It was like.. bam.. everything that I believed I was.. was.. not right.

    I kinda dropped a level of conciousness at this point. I think this is what happens before people go insane. :) I don't remember what happened, but apparently I starting saying weird shit for like 15 minutes (that quotation is one of the things I said). When I came to, I was crying. Wierd night, to say the least. :)

    I thought.. so this is how it happens.. If you're strong, when you go insane like this, you throw yourself out the window. If you're weak, you grab a shotgun and maul 100 innocent bystandards. If you're lucky like me, you realize that it's time to relax. The world is a fucked up place, and the best you can hope to do is talk.. tolerate.. and try to understand.

    All people who declare war on humanity (as I did that night) are great. We all have good intentions. But we're always wrong. There is no way to win the war on humanity. Anyway. That's the story behind my quotation.

    All men are great
    before declaring war

  • by nightfire-unique ( 253895 ) on Saturday May 19, 2001 @07:23AM (#211919)
    Ok everyone, relax. :)

    There is no possibility a city will get fried by microwave energy. First of all, any system beaming energy from orbit would use a laser based targetting system. There would be an electrical cutoff if the laser failed to reach the satellite along the return path (which would presumably not be software controllable). So, if the microwave emitter lost the laser "signal" from earth (which would presumably only be receivable on a perpendicular to the ground) by drifting off course or because of a mechanical failure, the microwave emitter would shut down.

    Second of all - the microwave beam would not be wide enough to cause mass destruction anyway. The waves would be directed so that it bathes a small target on the ground (less than 10 feet in diameter). So even if the guidance cutoff failed and the satellite were to hit a city with microwaves, the damage would be fairly localized (imagine a disaster the scale of a 747 crashing into a neighborhood - not a nuclear or biological weapon event).

    All in all I think this will be an interesting project. Best of luck to them.

    All men are great
    before declaring war

  • Exactly, plus Bush and Cheney actually sold their oil stocks for propriety's sake before taking office...

    Excuse me, I don't much like political flame-wars on Slashdot. But what you just said is wildly untrue. Dick Cheney still has multi-millions of dollars of options in Halliburton oil, many of which don't vest for several years.

    There was a flap about this, and he made some noise about getting rid of them, but then it blew over and he quietly went ahead owning them. So please do some basic research before posting.

    As far as the energy crisis... I'm not sure I see any solutions in the Bush plan except drilling the ANWR (a relatively small amount of oil, 10 years out), reducing emissions standards (which simply exacerbates the Not-In-My-Backyard phenomenon which is responsible for a lot of the power companies' troubles, not wild eyed environmentalists or democrats) and of course, Eminant Domain (which pisses off a lot of Bush's key supporters and is rife with legal difficulty.)

    I should elaborate that drilling for oil in the ANWR does not mean that America will have more oil, as oil is sold on a global market. It simply means that a few American companies will make more money than they do now. OPEC will still be able to maintain the price, even if the most optimistic estimates of production are met. Simply raising efficiency standards on new cars would save an amount of oil that easily eclipses what's going to come out of ANWR. Now, if we could realistically find a lot more oil, maybe it'd be a real plan, but it's just silliness as it stands.

  • Fuel is expensive because supplies are limited because refinery capacity can not meet the demands of the "greatest economy in history"

    If this is the case, Bush's plan does nothing-- drilling the ANWR will not increase refinery capacity. Supply is low because a major oil cartel has been deliberately reducing it over the past few years. OPEC could easily have pump prices under a buck if they wanted such a thing. Pumping oil out of the ANWR isn't going to give us any more oil (oil's sold on a global market), and OPEC will reduce supply again to keep the price where they want it. That's not a bad thing for the oil companies that bankrolled the Bush/Cheney campaign, though (nor is it bad for Cheney and his millions in un-vested Halliburton options.)

    Furthermore, I'm not sure exactly which crisis you're even talking about? The one in California that was caused by ill-advised insta-deregulation in the 1980s? Or the one at the pump, which (as I just said) has to do with us relying so desperately on a resource controlled by people who (gasp!) don't have our best interests at heart. We could, of course, simply require autos to run more efficiently; the savings in gas would pay for the increased price over and over again, and the oil saved would more than eclipse anything that we're going to get from ANWR.

    In any case, most electricity is made from coal, not oil. And the major problem with that is that people don't want coal plants (especially the dirtier coal plants allowed by the Bush plan) anywhere near them (these are regular people, not liberal environmentalists.) We've pretty much choked Native American Reservations with particularly nasty coal plants. Bush's plan aims to solve this by taking land away from people (not popular among the very strong land-rights lobby that generally would support him.) It makes no provisions to even think about wind power, which could easily be providing a significant portion of our power in 10 years (the time it will take for ANWR exploration to begin producing results.) Modern wind technology is rapidly becoming competitive, with enormous multi-megawatt generators bringing down the production price (actually, this stuff is very cool [], you should check it out no matter how much you disagree with me on the rest of it.)

    And finally, it absolutely rejects the possibility that there might be something to this whole greenhouse effect thing. I might understand questioning the existence of global warming, but to plow ahead with the most vigorous pro-fossile fuel plan since the 70s at a time like this is a waste of taxpayer resources and just plain stupid.

  • by dachshund ( 300733 ) on Saturday May 19, 2001 @06:33AM (#211934)
    With all of Bush's rhetoric about an energy crisis, why doesn't NASA latch onto this idea to secure more funding?"

    For all of Bush's rhetoric, his budget has already slashed funding for alternative energy research. I think this particular idea would fall under the same axe. I'm not going to draw the obvious conclusion as to what his priorities really are.

    Now, if we could bill these solar satellites as some sort of missile-defense...

  • i would be more impressed by a cheaper easier to install set of efficient solar panels

    think about how much energy would be saved if every house and business in cali had solar panels on their roofs

    would their still be rolling blackouts ?

    besides i'd like to see my own power bill drop below car payment level

  • by WoefullyFat ( 324813 ) on Saturday May 19, 2001 @08:07AM (#211947)
    But then again, so are oil, coal, and nuclear power. Everytime there's a new tech advance posted here on Slashdot, 50 people reply to the story pointing out how deadly the new tech is. Imagine the replies to the post about Ford releasing the Model T: "So we're just going to let anyone that has $500 drive around some thousand pound chunk of metal powered by EXPLODING GASOLINE! No thanks, I'm sticking to horses!" All technology is dangerous. If you discount a new idea because it's possible to accidentally kill people with it, well, enjoy your cave.
  • You're probably someone who is concerned with saving the environment, as you would rather have solar power than find more petroleum. Yet you want to roll the stuff across acres of the desert or the ocean. Do you know what this would do to the environment?

    Like I said, it would take an amount of area similar to current paved roads. That's not a drastic impact on the enviromnent; nobody's claiming that today's pavement is causing Antarctica to melt.

    As to finding more petroleum, that's probably not a big deal. We'll run out before doubling the current impact, and we'd need alot of it to make plastic tarp collectors anyway. The real disaster will be if we stupidly manage to burn all the coal that we could potentially scratch out of the ground. That's orders of magnitude more CO2. Have you checked the weather on Venus lately?

  • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Saturday May 19, 2001 @07:37AM (#211949)
    Why spend billions on an expensive, fragile space-based solution? The billions would be better spent on a crash program to develop solar cells embedded in cheap plastic tarp. Use some ideas similar to those being developed for plastic display technology.

    It wouldn't have to be especially efficient, just cheap. Unroll acres of the stuff directly onto the desert floor, or float it on the ocean. Maybe put it in the diamond-shape gaps between those circular irrigated crop fields out west.

    My math estimates a few thousand square miles of 5% efficient (at 1% overall system efficiency) collectors would satisfy all our energy needs. (If you think that's too much area, imagine explaining how much area would be paved over in 2001 to a guy from the 19th century. It can be done.)

    If this was treated like the Manhatten project, I'd bet they could get production started in 7 years or so. By contrast, in 7 years, NASA would still only be doing feasiblity studies on a space-based solution.

  • Wouldn't it make more sense to just deploy solar cells here on the ground? If you don't want to set up miles of cells that cover the ground, put them on the roofs of buildings...

    Right now, it makes more sense to deploy solar cells on the ground. Or to build nuclear power plants, or wind generators, or electric themocouples. The economics of solar panels don't add up at current launch costs.

    At some price point, launching becomes cheap enough that they do. What, exactly, that point is is debatable. It's probably more than one factor of ten below present costs and less than two; it's unquestionably less than three. We should be able to do one factor of ten for large launches by 2020- actually, we could do it by 2005 if there were sufficient demand. So if Japan is planning using this stuff for 2020, they are probably not drastically off-base, and they should certainly start small-scale experiments now.

    Incidentally, Japan has somewhat greater energy problems than most places do. They have an extremely high industrial/urban population density; they lack internal energy resources (coal, oil, gas, uranium); they are more nervous than most about nuclear power, for both historical and geographical reasons (it'd be hard to put many power plants in enough isolation from major cities to feel very safe; also, the prevalence of earthquakes and tsunamis would make me rather nervous as a plant designer); and they don't have many wide open spaces to devote to solar cells on the ground. Also, a single generating point for electricity would do much more for the relatively compact nation than it would in the US, where transmission over long distances is a problem, and where we'd still use lots of gasoline anyhow. So it's not surprising that they're pioneering this.

  • You could do something similar in space. Light pressure and temperature differentials could both be used to generate power, but so far as I know, no one thinks these would be nearly as easy to get efficient as photovoltaic cells. One of the critical things about a solar farm is that, for its size, it's extremely simple, needing little on-orbit servicing or anything.

    It's probably worth mentioning that a solar satellite, generating electricity, has precious little (in terms of currently deployed technology) to do with oil drilling, which mainly fuels cars and some heating; which in turn has nothing to do with California's electricity problems, which are just a case of local poor planning (both engineering and economic)...

  • If this is such a great idea, there oughta be zillions of dollars in it. It ought to be cheaper than our current energy sources. But it isn't. This is why the solar bugs keep demanding subsidy.

    Do you honestly think that capitalism runs an absolutely perfect market in all respects? Solar and wind power require substantial investments of initial capital with an eye towards long-term return- here I mean on the scale of several decades. They face substantial risks, due to the existence of a competing industry that has substantial power in the federal government and massive amounts of capital.

    This is where governments typically step in. Government support has been present at the founding of every significant American industry since America industrialized. They subsidized the hell out of the railroads with land grants and more. They subsidized steel. They subsidized oil most of all, letting oil interests massively affect foreign policy, and building a national highway system, not to mention things like inventing and subsidizing jets, which are a whole other oil market. This is what happens. It's perfectly logical. And every single time, previous industries that had built themselves off of subsidies, turned around and cried 'foul' when they feared being replaced by something superior.

    And, of course, if we charged fair prices, solar power wouldn't need a subsidy after all- because in fact, every use of oil power is taking a free subsidy off the public resources of clean air and water. If everyone burning a fossil fuel were merely required to pay for the appropriate amount of CO2 scrubbing to maintain the atmosphere, and all the other environmental damage was ignored, clean power would be the biggest industry in America in ten years.

  • Bob is a good guy and an excellent engineer, but he stacked the deck for this one. As I mentioned before, reducing current launch costs by an order of magnitude is forseeable within the very near future. Designs that could, for large launches, reduce it by two orders of magnitude are clearly within the reach of current technology. If launch costs aren't down by a factor of 100 by 2050, it'll be because we've been sleeping on the job.

    See the FAQ [] for a detailed analysis of this and some other concerns, although they're oriented towards a slightly different problem. At any rate, Bob also shoots down SPS by requiring massive orbital colonies to support the power generators, a demand that is, to say the least, arguable.

  • "[T]he world's largest oil companies ... aren't all that interested in anything not coming out of the ground."

    Question: Who's the world's largest solar electric company?

    Answer: BP Solar [] (BTW, BP="British Petroleum").

  • Speaking of large man made objects in space, what about all of our junk from previous NASA endeavors left orbiting (or left with the hope that they would burn up eventually)? What about all of the micro-meteorites that are moving fast enough to slice a car in half?

    By putting a huge array of solar-panels in space, you've just created an object with a considerably large surface-area to mass ratio. Therefore, the probability of it getting hit, damaged, or even destroyed by speeding space junk is all the larger.

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