Thursday, October 20, 2005

Endless energy from space

Wired has an article by Michael Grebb on the potential for wired power and also discusses its use in the space elevator. I particularly like the idea of turning the moon into the universe's largest solar array.

In November 2003, David Criswell, director of the Institute for Space Systems Operations at the University of Houston, testified before the Senate Commerce Committee's subcommittee on science, technology and space to pitch a Lunar Solar Power system. LSP would use colossal solar arrays on the surface of the moon that would beam microwave energy down to Earth.

Criswell's concept is massive in scale: It would involve building 20,000 to 30,000 reception stations on Earth to accept the power beams and convert them into electricity that could be distributed to the population (The solar panels would be constructed on the moon with raw materials in the soil in "basically a glass-making process," he said).

Meanwhile, a series of moon bases housing up to 5,000 human beings (but possibly only a few hundred because of recent advances in automation and robotics) would be required on the lunar surface. "I hope they're Americans," Criswell told Wired News. "We'd be extending ourselves off of the Earth permanently."

Criswell predicts that the LSP system could produce a steady 20-terawatt stream that he predicts the estimated 10 billion people living on Earth by 2050 will need. "It actually provides you with such clean, sustainable energy that we can correct our past errors," he said.

Of course, Criswell's enthusiasm isn't shared by everyone. One problem is the price tag: Criswell said the project would cost at least $500 billion before it started to break even, after which it would start paying for itself and increasing global wealth exponentially. Still, it's a hefty bill for an untested concept. |Wired|
I would much rather see a moon base than a silly space station anytime. The moon should have a permanent human presence as we prepare our Mars expedition, if you ask me.

I actually think it's more likely that the Chinese will build a moon base before the U.S. They have the money, an excess population to propel them to develop off-planet colonies, and a much higher tolerance for the loss of life in the pursuit of space exploration.
"China is expected to complete its first exploration of the moon in 2010 and will establish a moon base just as we did on the North and South Poles," promised Ouyang Ziyuan, head of China's moon exploration programme as he launched the country's national science and technology week in Beijing.

After its first man in space, China plans a space laboratory, a lunar orbiter to look for valuable elements and minerals, robot landings on the moon - and then the human touchdown.

The price of space exploration is enormous. Russia and the US - the only two states to have achieved manned flight - are struggling to keep their brand-new investment, the international space station aloft. Britain abandoned its own plans for a launcher 30 years ago, and until recently refused to join Europe in developing the successful Ariane series of launch rockets.

But China has a long tradition in physics, mathematics and engineering, and its doctoral graduates have been welcomed in the US and Europe for decades. A centrally directed state, it can throw huge resources at technical problems, and it has been able to learn from 40 years of pioneering triumphs and mistakes by the USSR and the USA. |Guardian|

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