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太空电力 March 30, 2015

Posted by Maury Markowitz in solar power satellites.
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That's a lot of paper to crunch on that CRT!

That’s a lot of paper to crunch on that CRT!

Once again the undead topic of solar power satellites has raised its hand and flagged down the hoards of space enthusiasts over on Slashdot (thanks for the stats bump everyone!).

A post entitled Chinese Scientists Plan Solar Power Station In Space might lead you to falsely conclude that some actual work is taking place. A slightly more accurate title can be found if you click through to the linked article, Chinese scientists mull power station in space. And if one takes the time to actually read the article in question, you might conclude the title should read Retired Chinese rocket engineer gets some free press.

Harsh? Maybe. The person in the article is Wang Xiji, formerly of China’s space development agency and best known as the lead designer on the Long March 1, China’s first space booster. He indirectly launched their first satellite, Dong Fang Hong 1, in 1970. As is always the case with these stories, the real motivation quickly becomes evident when you consider quotes like “we need a cheap heavy-lift launch vehicle”.

Xiji is an astonishing 93 years old, and clearly hale. I should be so lucky! And if age really does translate into wisdom (we should all be so lucky) then clearly my feelings on space power have to be wrong. But in this case, I’m going to chalk it up to age before beauty.

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With friends like these… March 21, 2013

Posted by Maury Markowitz in solar power satellites.
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I can’t believe I missed this… Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, was giving a talk on, well, stuff, when someone asked him about space based solar power. His response?

“You’d have to convert photon to electron to photon back to electron. What’s the conversion rate?” he says, getting riled up for the first time during his talk. “Stab that bloody thing in the heart!”

What makes this most amusing is that Musk’s name is continually dropped as the way that space based solar power will become economically attractive. His rockets, it’s claimed, points to a future where SPS’s are economically possible. But they don’t, and even he dismisses the possibility.

So the power companies don’t want it, the solar power industry doesn’t, people looking to save outer space think it’s terrible, and even the people making the rockets they would buy think it’s dumb. That’s pretty much the royal flush.

The Maury Equation, redux March 17, 2012

Posted by Maury Markowitz in solar power satellites.
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Mir's solar panels were heavily damaged after years in space

Ouch!

It seems that every time a space-based solar power supporter reads my post on The Maury Equation, they pick one point of the many and try to attack the entire argument on that. That point normally has to do with launch costs, which isn’t the real argument at all.

So, let’s make this simple:

A solar cell in space will deliver less energy to the grid than the same cell on Earth. (more…)

The Maury Equation June 21, 2011

Posted by Maury Markowitz in solar power satellites.
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I’m claiming my 15 microseconds of fame right… now! The Maury Equation of the Economics of Solar Power demonstrates that the price of space based power will never be competitive. I intend to prove this, below.

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EADS? Egads! January 21, 2010

Posted by Maury Markowitz in solar power satellites.
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Who’s the latest company to float the space power trial ballon? That would be EADS Astrium, with another hand-waving article about IR lasers and space power. Sigh.

Here’ lets do the math people…

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Here we go again with the SPSs. September 1, 2009

Posted by Maury Markowitz in solar power satellites.
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The SPS’s just won’t die. In spite of being utterly uneconomical, and doomed to being destroyed in space even if you press ahead anyway, the announcements just keep rolling in. Nothing like a little unobtanium to lighten up the “credit crunch”.

The latest is a Bloomberg story about how Mitsubishi and IHI have joined an effort to build a 2 trillion yen ($21 billion USD) SPS that generates 1 GW of power. At $12,000 a pound those numbers seem a bit fishy to me, so I read on. When noting the high cost of the space launches needed to put this stuff up there, quickly-contacted talking head Hiroshi Yoshida said “These expenses need to be lowered to a hundredth of current estimates”. A hundredth eh? And how are they going to do that? “Humankind will some day need this technology, but it will take a long time before we use it”.

Ahhh, they’re going to wish it into existence! Excellent. And when they do, it will consist of a cardboard box full of monkeys that says “Peekaboo Perfect Space Explore!” on the side (sorry, can’t resist, NSFW page if you want a laugh).

Once again I’m left scratching my head: if you’re going to wish for some super-tech to save your SPS, why is that tech always a better rocket? Why not just hope for a better solar cell? After all, that seems much more likely than a better rocket, given the Japanese track record in that department. But I know why; if you make a better solar cell, you’re still better off leaving it here on planet Earth. And this isn’t really about SPS’s, it’s about excuses to build cool rockets. Funny that Mitsubishi makes JAXA’s  H-2 rocket… but that’s just a coincidence, I’m sure.

Since my last diatribe, a reader pointed me in the direction of this excellent report. So don’t take my word for it, read it and weep.