Why Space Solar Power Needs the Satellite Industry


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Engineers and visionaries have been pursuing space-based solar power (SSP) generation for decades. Robert Bell, executive director of the Society of Satellite Professionals In'tl, explains why the satellite industry is SSP's best potential partner as well as an industry already operating in GEO with issues and concerns it needs taken into account.

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Why Space Solar Power Needs the Satellite Industry

  1. 1. Robert Bell Executive Director Society of Satellite Professionals Int’l Why Space Solar Power Needs the Satellite Industry On Its Side
  2. 2. A long, long time ago… This way to the Promised Land!!!
  3. 3. A long, long time ago… This way to the Promised Land!!!
  4. 4. The same story today
  5. 5. The same story today The GEO Neighborhood
  6. 6. It’s crowded up here
  7. 7. Really crowded Welcome to the neighborhood! Let’s get acquainted.
  8. 8. What the industry has to offer  +400 satellites in GEO  $117 bn in revenue  Legal rights to orbital slots  Regulatory protection of microwave frequencies  More experience designing for and operating in space than anyone else  Long horizons for capital investment And… we really are rocket scientists!
  9. 9. Industry opinions Chief Engineer whose first job was planning SSP for Boeing in the 70s VP Satellite Operations Investment banker in the satellite & space industries Dr. Satellite
  10. 10. Concerns about technology For operation in GEO, the Tech Readiness Level of SSP is low (est. 3 out of 10) • Few underlying technologies are proven in orbit except power generation (for satellites) • Only small-scale terrestrial tests of power-beaming to date • Challenges to space-based testing hinder development
  11. 11. Concerns about scale Scale problems are massive • Need to put 10,000-30,000 metric tons into orbit – ISS is 40 metric tons • Need to generate multiple Gw – ISS generates 300-400 Kw • Need to build something with 10 km wingspan – ISS is 150 m • Technology can only be proven at large scale due to wavelength of transmission and distance from Earth Can it be done? Certainly…with enough money behind it
  12. 12. Concerns about communications Interference and regulations • SSP power beaming would render certain microwave bands all but unusable, with biggest impact on terrestrial mobile • Out-of-band emissions could be a huge problem if not controlled • Spectrum regulation is both international and national, highly complex and highly controversial
  13. 13. Exciting opportunity A communications satellite earns its owner about $250m in revenue and delivers about $2bn in value to society a year Selling 5 GW of SSP at 5 cents per Kw per year would have the same results If successful, SSP could dwarf the commercial satcom industry
  14. 14. Upsides for the industry Development of SSP would drive valuable innovation: • Radical reductions in launch costs required to put all that mass in orbit • Highly efficient electric propulsion to transfer from LEO to GEO • Proven modular in-orbit construction and repair technologies • Big gains in efficiency of solar power generation • More efficient antenna systems
  15. 15. Message for SSP innovators “Work on the enabling technologies: launch, electric propulsion, in-orbit construction and repair, solar efficiency.” “The research & industrialization effort could help our space communications activities survive long-term competition from terrestrial systems.”
  16. 16. Message for SSP innovators “It will be hard. Keep working on it.”
  17. 17. Robert Bell Executive Director Society of Satellite Professionals Int’l Why Space Solar Power and the Satellite Industry Need Each Other