A Better Strategy for America?

Al Globus, April 2007

Suppose I told you that we could build an energy source where:

The basic idea: build huge satellites in Earth orbit to gather sunlight, convert it to electricity, and transmit it to Earth wirelessly. We know we can do it, most satellites are powered by solar energy today and wireless energy transfer has been demonstrated with very high efficiency. We're talking about SSP - solar satellite power. Just 400 solar power satellites, 10 km diameter each, can supply all of Earth's current energy use (18 Terawatts).

SSP is environmentally friendly in the extreme. The wireless transmission frequency can be chosen for minimal impact and SSP has no emissions of any kind, but that's not all. Even terrestrial solar and wind require mining all their materials on Earth, not so SSP. The satellites can be built from lunar materials so only the materials for the receiving antennas (rectennas) need be mined on Earth. SSP may be the most environmentally benign possible large-scale energy source for Earth, there is far more than enough for everyone, and the sun's energy will last for billions of years.

While help is always nice, the U.S. can build and operate SSP alone, and SSP is nearly useless to terrorists. The satellites themselves are too far away to attack, the rectennas are simple, solid metal structures, and there is no radioactive or explosive fuel of any kind. Access to SSP energy cannot be cut by foreign governments, so America will have no need to maintain an expensive military presence in oil-rich regions.

The catch is cost. Compared to ground based energy, SSP requires enormous up-front expense, although after development of a largely-automated system to build solar power satellites from lunar materials SSP should be quite inexpensive. To get there, however, will cost hundreds of billions of dollars in R&D and infrastructure development - just what America is good at. And you know something, we're spending that kind of money, not to mention blood, destruction, and hatred, on America's Persian Gulf military presence today, and gas went over $3/gallon anyway. In addition, we may end up spending even more to deal with global warming, at least in the worst-case scenarios. Expensive as it is, SSP may be the best bargain we've ever had.

What should we do? Besides having NASA do interesting and inspiring things, direct and fund NASA to do something vital: end U.S. dependence on foreign oil by developing SSP. Redirect the lunar base to do the mining, and develop the launch vehicles, inter-orbit transfer, and space manufacturing capacity to end oil's energy dominance completely and forever. It will be expensive, but it's a better, cheaper, safer strategy than military control of oil in far flung lands.

Oh, by the way, SSP will develop lunar mining, launch vehicles, and large satellite construction - most of what we need to build space settlements!