Space… the solar power frontier

My Clean Break column this week takes a look at the idea of space-based solar power systems and how an agency of the U.S. government is recommending that the idea be given serious consideration, as well as funding on the scale we’ve seen for research into nuclear fusion. The National Security Space Office, which reports to the U.S. Department of Defense, argues that energy security concerns, climate change and technological advancements warrant a massive government investment in space-based solar power systems, which could technically beam gigawatts of clean power back to Earth. It’s proposing a 10-megawatt pilot, which if successful, could spur private investment in commercial ventures, much like early government investment in the Internet and GPS eventually transformed the way we do business.

A 2005 survey of members of the space advocacy community found that 35 per cent of those polled saw space-based solar power (SBSP) to be a top priority for future U.S. space efforts, double the percentage who favoured defense of the planet from destructive asteroids and more than three times those who favoured a manned mission to Mars. The report also states that countries such as Canada (Go Canucks!) have expressed past and current interest.

“The technical feasibility of the concept has never been better and all science and technology development vectors appear to indicate that there is a credible potential for SBSP to be built within a strategically relevant period of time,” the report concludes. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Department of Defense report if it didn’t have some military perks. “To the DoD specifically, beamed energy from space in quantities greater than 5 megawatt-hours has the potential to be a disruptive game changer on the battlefield.”

It goes on to envision “energy on demand” for combat units. Hell, combined with satellite TV the battlefield entertainment possibilities are endless. HDTV in the deserts outside Kandahar. Charging of iPods in the mountains of Pakistan. Now we’re talking.