Often touted as the Space Age’s ultimate solution to terrestrial energy problems, expectations for the potential of space solar power waned with the decline of the national space agencies by the end of the 20th century, though its advocates have remained to the present day. Critically dependent upon the economy of launch capability, the need for a massive on-orbit industrial infrastructure, and the ability to source materials in space, the concept has long presented a ‘chicken-or-egg’ dilemma with its implementation. Barring the improbable creation of a multi-national dual ‘Manhattan Project’ for space and renewable energy development, it demanded an infrastructure for its implementation that could only be paid for with the kind of sustained revenue it would itself produce only when complete. Near-term, launch costs and the reliance on terrestrial materials and ‘deployable’ systems launched whole or in parts proved largely untenable. But with the beginning of the Asgard phase likely coinciding with an emerging energy and carbon crisis at the start of the 21st century, space solar power is likely to be an increasingly important area of development over the phase even though TMP generally banks on the Aquarius phase with its OTEC-based establishment of a renewable energy infrastructure as the near-term solution to near-term terrestrial energy and environmental issues. The prophets of the first Space Age were not entirely wrong. Space solar power is the ultimate solution to the civilization’s energy needs –both terrestrial and in space. However, its realization may depend on an infrastructure initially cultivated for and justified by other purposes.
Early experiments with Solar Power Satellites are likely to be based on deployable systems using pneumatic and tether structure as well as variations of Modular Unmanned Orbital Laboratory - MUOL structures exploiting telerobotic self-assembly. Likely forms would include discrete solar Sterling generator satellites, vast pneumatic panel structures using integral PV membranes, tether satellites that link arrays of pneumatic solar collectors along the length of a tether, and MUOL truss arrays that employ a MUOL-style truss beam as the core structure of a large array of deployable solar collector modules –much like the solar panels of the normal MUOL, but larger. Early SPS system experiments may very likely be conducted aboard GEO located MUOL facilities using temporary modular component testbed systems.
The predominate form of SPS facility in the later Asgard phase, though, is likely to follow the architectural model of the Manned Orbital Factory - MOF facility with some systems possibly evolving from MOFs as a way of increasing their revenue potential. The MOF design is based on a simple space frame panel form, one edge featuring a heavier planar truss structure hosting the primary systems of the station while the rest of the structure is based on a much lighter tensegrity space frame system which need only support double-sided solar collector arrays over a much larger area. The Asgard SPS would follow suit, though with its tensegrity space frame portions far larger in area –indeed many square kilometers in area! Instead of solar tracking collectors, the facility would rely on earth-tracking microwave transmitters, perhaps in the form of large polyhedral phased arrays. Like the MUOL, it would rely on telerobotic self-assembly, being perpetually maintainable, upgradeable, and expandable. They would also rely predominately upon materials sourced in space and processed on Asgard facilities in order to make them economical, power production for Earth becoming a key means of export revenue for Asgard communities as, in the later Asgard period, emerging nanotechnology progressively steals market share from orbital industrial production for the terrestrial market.
These full-scale SPS systems would be paired with terrestrial facilities in the form of large equatorial marine platforms called Power Islands. Based on exactly the same structural technology employed with the Aquarius marine settlements, these Power Islands would be simpler but vast flat platforms hosting vast microwave rectenna arrays along with other solar power systems including solar collector arrays and OTEC plants as well as industrial facilities which can make use of the vast surface and lower deck internal space, such as hydroponic greenhouses, algaeculture arrays, and the like. With only a few Power Islands likely to be near any coastal urban centers, most would operate as fuel production facilities, turning the vast amounts of solar energy they gather from space into hydrogen and possibly hydrides or redox ‘fuels’ as well as some secondary fuels like methanol. Some Power Islands may actually originate with self-contained OTEC plants deployed as part of Aquarian development and adapted to the space power role.
Traditionally, space solar power concepts have been based on the use of fairly elaborate solar power satellite designs in complex orbits intended to afford uninterrupted power production to rectenna facilities located in the Northern Hemisphere. However, in TMP2 we see this strategy as impractical given the complications and impracticalities of locating rectenna facilities on land, the added overhead of over-land long-distance power links, and the limitations of a single national market. Though conversion of solar-electric power to portable mediums like hydrogen is less efficient, it affords a power facility a global market through a distribution and utilization infrastructure already established by the Aquarius phase and a reduced complexity in system design and ground facility operating overhead. Ultimately, the key to cracking the chicken-or-egg dilemma of space solar power may rest in thinking on a global market scale. To date, space solar power has been visualized largely in the context of supplying power to North America alone –a very narrow perspective even if it is the largest individual sub-market. The economics of this may be much more rational in the context of the truly global energy market –a market which by this time would have already been opened up by Aquarian industrial efforts.
Later in the Asgard phase, and toward the emergence of the Solaria phase, space solar power will see a shift in focus from Earth-orbital systems supplying a terrestrial market to solar-orbital systems supporting settlements across the solar system. Thus it is likely that the SPS of the Asgard phase will evolve into a solar-orbital SPS of vastly greater proportions. These facilities would still employ architecture similar to the earlier MOF-like SPS but strictly single-sided, one side employing solar collectors, the other radiators, and the edges featuring communications and power transmitting systems in the form of large free-space laser and maser systems. Within their large internal volume, AI-assisted automated factories would actually recycle and fabricate all the components the facility is made with, making them truly self-perpetuating. As with the Inter-Orbital Way-Station, some of these facilities might eventually become host to ‘colonies’ of AI beings who pay for the maintenance and expansion of their rather minimalist form of settlement with the power they deliver to other communities.
Most of these solar-orbital SPS systems would be associated with specific orbital facilities they are in somewhat close proximity to and for which they provide power by point-to-point power relay links. They would be used to overcome some of the logistical issues associated with adding solar collector structure to some habitat designs when their power needs grow faster than their need for internal area. In some cases they may also provide long-distance point-to-point power relay to outer reaches of the solar system where conventional solar collectors are at a disadvantage –an application likely demanding the use of sophisticated and vast phased array lasers and local power receiver satellites that can collect and relay laser energy across multiple points in a local area. Such systems may parallel the development of possible Laser Molecular Conveyance systems, producing hybrid systems that transport both energy and molecular materials with the same facilities.
With the possible advent of Nuclear Isomers as a means of extremely high density energy storage, some of the larger solar orbital SPS facilities could become more industrial in aspect, manufacturing and recycling these nuclear isomers in bulk for distribution across the solar system. Such a strategy, of course, would only be practical in the context of the truly extreme energy densities anticipated for these materials and with the benefit of solar-electric-based propulsion such as The Ballistic Railway Network which would afford transport at little to no propellant costs.
In the original TMP Marshal Savage envisioned the ultimate SPS in the form of extremely vast solar collector arrays that literally use solar wind pressure to hover in a stationary position in very close proximity of the sun and on planes above the ecliptic, so their collective blocking of sunlight would not impact the inhabited regions of the solar system. These would beam their extremely concentrated energy across the solar system and, in some cases, deploy vast magnetic filtering systems able to extract antimatter particles from the sun itself for containment and transport elsewhere. With the eventual advent of NanoFoam, advanced magnetic systems, and AI, such seemingly fanciful concepts could indeed become feasible in the form of self-fabricating solar-driven phased array lasers of gigantic proportions that can self-reproduce like algae on a pond, feeding on the vast molecular ejecta of the sun as well as its energy. These may evolve in a direct line from the SPSs used in more conventional orbits as they too incorporate these technologies and, as advanced as they might be, they may still bear a family resemblance to the SPSs of the Asgard era.
- Life In Asgard
- Modular Unmanned Orbital Laboratory - MUOL
- Modular Unmanned Orbital Factory - MUOF
- Manned Orbital Factory - MOF
- Asgard SE Upstation
- Asteroid Settlements
- Inter-Orbital Way-Station
- Beamship Concept
- Inter-Orbital Transport
- Cyclic Transport
- Special Mission Vessels
- Orbital Mining Systems
- The Ballistic Railway Network
- Deep Space Telemetry and Telecom Network - DST&TN
- Asgard Supporting Technologies