Space Review Looks at Space Tourism Soot, Titan’s Smog and Clean Solar Power

Photo by Mark Greenberg

This week in The Space Review

Climate change and suborbital spaceflight
The same day that commercial spaceflight supporters were celebrating the development of Spaceport America, a new study concluded that suborbital flights that facility will host could alter the planet’s climate. Jeff Foust examines the latest research and some of the issues associated with the study.

The mysteries of Titan

Thirty years ago this week Voyager 1 made the first close flyby of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon and one of the most intriguing worlds in the solar system. Andrew LePage recounts the research into Titan and the planning that led up to that encounter.

Space solar power’s Indian connection
As the United States and India seek closer ties, should space-based solar power be on the agenda? Jeff Foust reports on developments in that field, including a new joint initiative supported by a former Indian president.

Space Review Looks at Falcon 9, Space Solar Power and Apes

SpaceX's Falcon 9 on the pad at Cape Canaveral. (Credit: Chris Thompson/SpaceX)
SpaceX's Falcon 9 on the pad at Cape Canaveral. (Credit: Chris Thompson/SpaceX)

The Space Review looks at Falcon 9, solar power, British space policy, and apes.

The Falcon 9 flies

Jeff Foust reports on the successful test flight of SpaceX’s new Falcon 9 rocket and its implications for industry and policy.

Blinded by the light

Like some other 1970s fads, space solar power (SSP) has enjoyed a comeback in the last few years. Dwayne Day contrasts the attention, or lack thereof, SSP received at a pair of recent conferences.

Breaking old habits

A new coalition government has taken power in the UK shortly after the formal establishment of a national space agency. Andrew Weston hopes the new government will take the opportunity to revisit some long-held opposition to efforts such as launch vehicle development and human spaceflight.

Return to the Planet of the Apes

A speech by NASA administrator Charles Bolden at a recent space conference was interrupted by a woman protesting NASA’s plans to perform experiments on monkeys. Dwayne Day wonders if that was really an effective way to get their point across.

EADS Astrium Looks for Partners on Solar Power Satellite

EADS Astrium develops space power concept
BBC News

Europe’s biggest space company is seeking partners to fly a demonstration solar power mission in orbit. EADS Astrium says the satellite system would collect the Sun’s energy and transmit it to Earth via an infrared laser, to provide electricity.

Space solar power has been talked about for more than 30 years. However, there have always been question marks over its cost, efficiency and safety. But Astrium believes the technology is close to proving its maturity.

“Today we are not at an operational stage; it’s just a test,” said chief executive officer Francois Auque. “In order to implement a solution, of course, we would need to find partnerships and to invest, to develop operational systems,” he told BBC News.

Read the full story.

California Utility Agrees to Buy Power from Solaren

December 3, 2009

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) today approved a renewable energy contract for Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), furthering the state’s progress towards its renewable energy goals.

Through its power purchase agreement with Solaren Corporation, PG&E is entitled to generation from a first-of-its kind space-based solar project. The experimental technology uses orbiting satellites equipped with solar cells to convert the sun’s energy into electricity, which is then converted into radio frequency energy that can be transmitted to a local receiver station. Space-based solar power has been researched in the U.S. for several decades and this summer the Japanese government announced plans to pursue a space-based solar program.


Space Review: Flexible Path, U.S.-China Cooperation and More

The Space Review features the following essays this week:

Dan Lester proposes using the Earth-Moon L1 point as a logical starting point for journeys beyond low Earth orbit.

Bob Clarebrough looks back two centuries to the development of a different industry to find lessons of innovation for today’s space entrepreneurs.

Taylor Dinerman warns that the US should not appear to be too eager to work with the Chinese.

Dwayne Day describes a new Smithsonian exhibit that features two instruments that flew on the Hubble Space Telescope.

Jeff Foust reviews a book that attempts to prove that space is the solution to our energy woes.

Solaren: We Can Launch Space Solar Power Satellite in Only 4 Launches


Daily Finance has an interview with Solaren’s Director of Energy Services Cal Boerman about the California start-up’s plans to launch a space-based solar power satellite.

Daily Finance: What has changed over to make space-based power technically feasible today? Have there been any breakthroughs that have made this possible?

Boerman: Actually, not really. The technology is fairly well developed. if you look at today’s communications satellites, they have solar cells that generate the electricity they need. These satellites convert the electricity into radio waves, then signal to your home to your television. That’s what DirecTV does. Except unlike them, we don’t throw away the center part of the beam where all the energy is located. They only want to signal around the edges. So there is no novel technology development required. It’s an engineering problem. Our challenge is to make the surface areas a little bigger and lighter but not to develop a key technology that makes or breaks the project. What we have done differently is keep the weight of our satellites down. Unlike other projects, we won’t have to build them in space. That’s a big difference.

How many launches will it take to the get the whole system up and orbiting?

We can do it with a small number of launches, only four. To get that, we had to come up with a design that was lightweight and innovative. We’re still using a big rocket….

Read the full story.

Experts Discuss Space Solar Power in Toronto


Bright idea or sci-fi?
The Star

It sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel. Solar power plants orbiting the planet, each the size of 700 Canadian football fields, beaming clean energy down to Earth 24 hours a day so we can run our factories, charge our gadgets and keep our home appliances humming.

But for the scientists and engineers attending the International Symposium on Solar Energy from Space, a three-day conference this week in Toronto, there’s nothing fictional about it. In their view, building massive space-based solar power systems represents, over the long term, one of the most effective ways of tackling the double menace of global warming and peak oil.


Could Space Elevators Make Solar Power Satellites Feasible?

spaceelevatorSpace Elevator: Science Fiction or Global Warming Cure?
PC World

Researchers gathered at the Space Elevator Conference on Thursday said that an elevator could make transportation to space so much more inexpensive than it is now, that companies could build large solar-power farms in space to provide energy for people on Earth. That could eliminate the need to burn fossil fuels and thus reduce global warming.


Japan to Begin Developing Space-Based Solar Power

Japan Shooting For Space-Based Solar Power

The government will by the end of this year start developing technologies designed to eventually beam electricity from solar panels in space down to the earth.

A public solicitation for firms to participate in the endeavor will soon be made; the companies may be selected as early as next month. The government expects players in the electronics and heavy electric machinery industries to participate. The hope is to commercialize orbital solar power by 2030.

Read the full story.  (A shout-out to Clark Lindsey at Hobby Space for finding this story.)

PowerSat Files for Patent App for Space Solar Power Technology

PowerSat's plans for beaming energy from space
PowerSat's plans for beaming energy from space

PowerSat: Space Solar Flies Closer to Earth

Solar from space: It may sound like a bad sci-fi movie, but a growing number of companies think it could solve the world’s energy crisis. Among them is Everett, Wash.-based PowerSat Corp., which said today it’s filed a provisional patent for two technologies it claims could help make the transmission of solar power from space more cost-effective.


Is Solaren’s SBSP Plan a Game Changer or a $2 Billion Folly?

A giant leap toward space-based solar power
Los Angeles Times

A Manhattan Beach start-up called Solaren Corp. seeks to launch an array of giant solar power collectors into orbit 23,000 miles above Fresno and beam the energy to Earth. PG&E has signed a contract to buy the power — if Solaren can make the technology work.

The proposal is a potential energy game-changer, supporters say. But, critics dismiss it as pie in the sky.


The Space Review: SBSP, Space 2.0, Lunar Lander Challenge and More

The Space Review
has some interesting analyzes this week:

John Marburry offers a way for government to support the development of space-based solar power despite the current economic meltdown.

Burke Fort, director of the director of the 8th Continent Project, describes how his group is helping foster the creation of companies that leverage space technology for terrestrial applications.

Jeff Foust reports on plans by several teams to win the Lunar Lander Challenge.

Taylor Dinerman worries that a U.N. effort to promote “sustainability” in space could be a power grab by the world body.