From lighting a LED, to lighting the world

It is very encouraging that some definite plans have been made for hardware to be put into orbit for the purpose of beaming power down to the ground and lighting a LED, to show proof of concept. Actually, when you think about it, whenever someone has their TV show seen via a satellite dish, they are already receiving solar-derived electrical energy beamed down from GEO; albeit a miniscule amount of energy, it is true solar-electric energy beamed down from space. And there are psychological considerations re lighting a bulb powered from space, for helping people to consider something actually possible instead of just another wacky idea.

I have witnessed beamed microwave power demonstrations by Bill Brown in 1995 and 1997 at the SSI conferences at Princeton; and one later in Los Angeles at a Space Frontier conference shortly before he passed away. It works. The concept has captured my imagination since the 1960’s; and ever since then I have had a personal goal of looking for ways to put them up there efficiently and economically.

To make sense, most likely in the long run much more power must be obtained from a power source than one puts into it. And potential quantity resulting needs to be a reasonable goal, delivered to the point of need. While overall cost savings such as lack of need for installing transmission lines may make it overall cost effective to put more overall energy into a particular power source than one can expect to receive from it, for the vision of supplying terrawatts to the countries of the world to enable clean abundant electrical power for them on into the future, the energy used to put them in place and to maintain them there, needs to be a lot less than the total energy they will eventually deliver to the customers. Such a path to feasibility needs to be shown, and that is the purpose of this post. This is not to refute the necessary initial use of conventional launch vehicles for placing construction materials for building some demonstration SPS surely is necessary.

The potentials and weaknesses of using vertical so-called Space Elevators for economical transportation for building Solar Power Satellites has been seriously explored since 2002, of course; the tensile strength to mass ratio of tether materials is the long-standing key issue there, but not the only issue.

Again, to show a potentially feasible long range reason for SPS to the world’s nations, as a replacement for dwindling environmentally disruptive fossil fuel energy sources, a fairly complete potential path needs to be shown to reach the full goal of facilities for long range reliable continuous delivery of many terrawatts of solar derived energy beamed down to customers around the world, so as to avoid future "resource wars," if not for humanitarian purposes including the well being of each of us as individuals.

And to that purpose, I would like to point out the principles of what appears to be such a transportation system, potentially able to achieve sufficient construction materials throughput for such a task, potentially approaching a transportation energy of less than an order of magnitude above the 15.7 KWh/kg energy added to payload by having moved it from the earth’s surface equator up into Geostationary Earth Orbit.

Although there have finally been published peer-reviewed technical papers published describing the concept (in space conference proceedings by ASCE in 2000, 2002, and 2004; and SESI in 2005) the concept has been highly unpopular with established space businesses; unfortunately apparently seen as a suppress-able tough rival instead of a potentially near-future tremendous boon for their space industries.

It would be an electrically powered transportation system operating between the earth’s surface on the equator, delivering payload specifically to GEO; and being electrically powered, it could be powered by SPS energy eventually, providing long term sustainability.

It would be a structure whose weight is supported by kinetic energy stored within itself, and would be in the general shape of an ellipse resembling and orbital transfer trajectory from the ground up to GEO; and it would deliver the transportation energy all along itself to lift payload-carrying spacecraft up to GEO and gently lower them back down to the ground. It could take several different specific forms, each with their own natures; but the one I have been mostly writing about since 1989 would be in the form of a synchronous electrical motor with myriad of discrete armature segments sliding around at 10’s of Km/s along inductive maglev tracks inside an evacuated set of quasi-elliptically shaped tubes encircling the earth; the armatures traveling at velocities sufficiently above Orbital Transfer Velocity that their aggregate outward centrifugal force on the track structure balances the force of gravity on the earth-stationary track structure, to support its weight and that of the live loads traveling along it to and from GEO. The armatures would also use a small fraction of their energy to inductively drag the captive spacecraft up from ground to GEO, thus the spacecraft would lift no fuel’s weight for the trip, enabling the extremely high transportation efficiency as compared to conventional launch vehicle transportation from the ground up into GEO.

With such a transportation structure between ground and GEO, built initially for delivering the construction materials for building an adequate amount of Solar Power Satellites in GEO, and maintaining them there, a host of other utilization of such access thereby become possible, such as high spaceports for reaction engine propelled spacecraft to go out further in space, such as to the Moon and Mars, electrically lifted up to spaceports far beyond the atmosphere and already 91% up out of earth’s gravitational energy well; large scale solar powered mass-spectrometer type total recycling plants might also be built in the zero-gee hard vacuum environment there in GEO too.

If the conference proceedings’ technical papers are not readily available, some information can be easily read online as a result of my
“handmade” efforts to create websites at and ; where both the technical descriptions and some of my space conference powerpoint presentations, and even my science fiction novels about these and other related ideas, can be found. Most of my life’s personal interest technical creativity efforts have gone into the making of ways to put Solar Power Satellites into GEO economically, ever since first hearing the SPS concept in the 1960’s.

I write this in hopes it will help to show a potentially full path to total feasibility of powering civilization from space-based solar power, toward there are now concrete plans to be designing and building hardware to demonstrate solar power beamed down from orbit to light a LED, hopefully to light up more people’s awareness to the potentials.


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