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Space solar power gets a boost

After spending weeks in information-gathering mode, a Pentagon analyst says the idea of putting satellites in orbit to harvest solar power and beam it down to Earth has lots of merit - and a test of the concept could be set in motion by 2015.

First word of the thumbs-up came from Col. M.V. “Coyote” Smith, who is heading up the National Security Space Office's study on feasibility of space-based solar power, via a presentation in the Second Life virtual world. Smith's comments were passed along on the Web by the Frontier Spaceport blog - and are due to be repeated today at a U.S. Air Force Academy conference on space solar power.

Frontier Spaceport's Robin Snelson quotes Smith as saying he'll extend his study and deliver an interim report on Oct. 11. Based on the posting, it sounds like Smith is sold on the idea:

"He spoke eloquently of the need for fleets of spaceplanes and reusable rockets to accomplish the baseline goals of the study, which envisions 40 powersats in geosynchronous orbit producing 10 percent of U.S. energy needs by the year 2050. (Hey, isn’t that the year Gerard O’Neill predicted way back in the 1970s? it sounded so far away then…)

"A first demonstrator project in, say, the year 2015 might power a military base, be capable of sending power to disaster areas, or transmit energy to troops abroad. The cost of petroleum fuel, not only money but lives lost in wars fought over oil, is a big driver of the Pentagon’s interest in space solar power. Coyote has gone from skeptic to enthusiast since the study began. ..."

That's music to the ears of space solar power fans, but will the idea really fly? There are several futuristic energy strategies out there, ranging from fusion power fueled by lunar helium-3 to Earth-based solar power, the hydrogen economy, the bio-hol economy and beam-power nirvana. It could come down to which pie-in-the-sky strategy makes the most economic sense. Will powersats prevail? Feel free to add your comments below.