• http://machinepoetry.info Neil Austin

    This is actually a minor feature in one of the books I’m writing. The only refinement I would add, which increases the complexity of the idea a bit, but makes the whole array a bit safer, in my opinion, would be to park accumulator satellites in geostationary orbits, and only allow these satellites to aim microwaves at the Earth. If your collector array is located inside this orbit, then the odds of catastrophic misses is dramatically less. If you need a larger array, or your desired orbit inside of the accumulator satellite is too crowded, simply program the individual collectors to only transfer stored energy at a tangent to the accumulator satellites. Granted, this also requires the collector satellites to be able to store significant energy, either via batteries or capacitors, which increases their complexity, and therefore their weight, but if you had a space elevator, this wouldn’t be an issue.

  • http://www.freesand.com/ Matt

    I don’t mean to be a downer but I’d be willing to bet that for (probably less than) the cost of one of these space solar arrays we could put conventional solar cells on every roof top in the country…

  • http://machinepoetry.info Neil Austin

    Rooftop solar arrays will not function at night, are affected by weather, subject to rust and the occasional pop-fly, would be expensive and dangerous for individuals to install and maintain, and would be impossible to require — buy in rates would be very low in the short term, and some communities would fight them tooth and nail.

    On the other hand, a space array would provide clean, consistent power around the clock, could be expanded far beyond limits imposed by surface applications, and might actually be *profitable* for whatever organization builds it, which would encourage the expansion of clean energy production. AND, a space based array would do nothing toward preventing you from putting solar cells on your roof.

    It doesn’t have to be either/or.

  • Jameson

    Umm… California averages around 30 GW, sometimes hitting 50 GW during the summer.

  • Scott

    First let me say that I love Ben Bova as a SciFi writer, but I hate this idea. It is super stupid for a whole bunch of reasons.
    1) Up front costs are 10X to 100X higher than similar power terrestrial systems.
    2) Better & cheaper ground based solar-thermal systems capable of baseload power are being built today.
    3) Distributed root-top solar is far more robust to any conceivable fault condition.
    4) The system is very vulnerable to terrorist or hostile power attack. One ballistic missile and no more satellite. The cost effectiveness of this type of military attack makes it irresistible.
    5) The system is very vulnerable to solar storms and/or meteorites.
    6) The system is weaponizable. Think floating city burner.
    7) The effect of massive amounts of microwave radiation beamed through the atmosphere is unknown, but very unlikely to be beneficial.
    8) Boosting into orbit many tons of stuff is highly polluting.
    9) This is an unaffordable solution for the USA, and absurdly unaffordable for the third world.

  • adh

    How can this system operate 24×7 with a fixed ground station? Surely each satellite would be geostationary and therefore have to be in the Earth’s shadow overnight.

  • Uncle B

    Today, the market crashed! Now we are “Third World”! and can only have grandiose dreams while we gather our mirrors in the deserts and boil water! Americans are closer now to home made windmills and passive solar collectors than ever before! Large amounts of capital will be reserved for the uber-rich and their lifestyle in Dubai or elsewhere – we, the common folk are stuck with geo-thermal, ground heat, small water power installations on private properties, passive solar, some solar cell tech when we can afford it and by recent government subsidies, small scale wind power and a hope that Obama has a “Manhattan Project” plan to get us off of oil and back to a decent balance of trade situation!