Reaching for the Stars' Power

At the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the National Security Space Office (NSSO) recently revealed it had an agenda for solar energy: collect the sun’s rays from outer space.

This may seem like a new idea, but it is approximately 40 years old. NASA was the first to visit and abandon it. Then the National Research Council looked at it.

At the Press Club, representatives from the NSSO showed a computer simulation demonstrating the idea. A satellite would catch the solar rays and beam the energy down in what the film showed as blue rings to a flat receiver in a desert. Underground power lines then would carry the energy to a city. The film concluded by showing nightfall and the city lighting up.

In space, sunlight is much more intense and consistent than on Earth. There are no clouds or atmosphere. There would be nothing to stop the sun from feeding a solar panel all the time. Once the satellite is placed in orbit, it would receive a constant source from the sun, and the energy would be beamed to Earth in laser beams or microwaves.

The NSSO released a report that states collecting the sun’s energy from space could be a national security asset. The report explains the cost of oil is up, the United States is engaged in a costly war, and the concern for global warming is rising. It recommends the U.S. government fund demonstrations to get private companies interested in the technology.

Of course, because this report is coming from the Department of Defense and it contains the words “laser beams,” there is some public concern that the technology could be used as a weapon.

“The question comes up when you start talking about beaming power from space is if this is a space weapon, and that is a valid question. And it is something we are transparent on. The answer is no, not at all,” said Lt. Col. Paul Damphousse, who worked on the report for the NSSO.

According to Damphousse, the beam would be coming back at very low power, less than the intensity of sunlight at noon, so it couldn’t burn or destroy anything. According to the report, the biological effect would be comparable to what you would feel sitting near a campfire. Regardless, the report recommends developing the technology openly, as to assuage concern.

“We want to share this technology. We want this to be not only for American security and our allies, but for the world,” Damphousse said.

It seems the NSSO is concerned or at least aware of popular opinion. According to Theresa Hitchens, the director of the Center for Defense Information, the way the report was openly written will help reassure people about the weapons question.

“But the fact remains there will be those kinds of concerns, and legitimately so,” she said. According to her, the military has been historically interested in the application of high-powered lasers or microwaves.

However, it may be worth the risk. According to Charles Miller, vice president of the Space Frontier Foundation, the energy market is a trillion-dollar-a-year market.

“If space-based solar power takes off, Apollo, the shuttle and the space station combined will look like a college science project,” he said.

To read the NSSO’s report on the space-based solar power project, visit EC

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