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Kalam-NSS Initiative Aimed at Producing Cheap Clean Power from Space

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
November 4, 2010
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National Space Society Chairman Mark Hopkins held a press conference this morning in which he unveiled more details of the Kalam-NSS Initiative, a joint U.S.-Indian effort aimed at building clean space-based solar power satellites.

Hopkins said that the program would combine American technology and low-cost Indian manufacturing to generate jobs and clean energy in both countries. A vibrant space solar power program would make the nations net energy exporters instead of importers.

The first step will be a bilateral conference at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville in May. It will involve 15-25 top researchers from each country, Hopkins said during a press event in Washington, D.C.

Joining Hopkins in the press conference by phone were: Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the former president of India who is chancellor of Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology; co-principal investigator T.K. Alex, director of the ISRO Satellite Centre; and American co-principal investor John Mankins, president of the Space Power Association.

Kalem, the “Missile Man” of India who was project director for the nation’s first satellite launcher, said space solar power could be used to help bring energy to the poor of the world. India can help bring down the cost of launching satellite components into orbit, he added. Kalem believes the project could take about 15 years.

Mankins, who is COO of Managed Energy Technologies, said that the dialogue between the U.S. and India goes back about a decade. The Kalam project is designed at a systems level, end-to-end study of space solar power and developing key technologies. Makins, who spend 25 years at NASA, said the most recent systems studies he oversaw at the space agency date back to the mid-1990s and need to be updated.

Asked what cost would make space solar power affordable, Mankins said that he was aiming to produce a 10 megawatt system in 10 years for less than $10 billion. He also gave the following figures:

Energy cost: $.10 per kilowatt hour
Platform mass: 3 kilograms per kilowatt delivered
Deployed cost: $3,000 per kilogram
Installed cost: $10 per watt
Platform operating lifetime: 15-20 years

Mankins said that 10 cents per kilowatt hour would be highly competitive with available terrestrial green energy.

He said that he had not briefed NASA on the Kalam initiative yet. Mankins said there was a “good chance” that NASA will end up supporting relevant development given the agency’s focus on “gaming changing” technologies.

Asked about the moon, Mankins said that although the moon might provide building materials for satellites, it would be much more difficult to beam power directly from the lunar surface because of the increased distance and the moon’s orbit.

Alex said that space solar satellites will become a reality if the cost of launching payloads into space is reduced. He said that no single country can bear the cost of creating these systems, he added.

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