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Not Another Sci-Fi Flick: Space-Based Solar Power

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Dr. Peter Glaser first introduced the concept of space-based solar power in 1968, but much like nuclear fusion, the idea of launching a giant solar panel into space to capture the sun’s rays has been written off as a futuristic fantasy years away from commercial fruition.

This week, the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) released a study on space-based solar power (SBSP). The study, which determined that SBSP is not only feasible, but could become cost-effective in the next 30 years, was led by John C. Mankins. Mankins, who is president of Artemis Innovation Management Solutions, discussed the latest developments in space-based solar power systems at a roundtable hosted by ASP this week.

Space Solar Power: Status & Progress ASP Briefing 15 Nov 2011

Under IAA’s proposal, satellites would be positioned in geosynchronous orbit over the equator and span several kilometers, allowing for unlimited access to the sun. The power collected would be converted into microwaves or laser beams, which would then be directed down to Earth.

Though the technologies to place such satellites into orbit already exist, the IAA study concluded that solar power in space could only be accomplished by coordinating the efforts of national space agencies and private groups such as companies, non-governmental organizations, and universities.

There is no question that technologies for next-generation energy sources are moving forward. The real question now is whether or not we choose to move forward with them.

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