Solar Array Feasible


The BBC has a cool article about the relative feasibility of using a low-orbit solar array as a source of renewable energy here

A recent study by the Pentagon concluded that a solar array in space was close to being technologically feasible, and robotics should soon make the building of large structures in space safer and quicker.

Leopold Summerer of the European Space Agency believes the generation of solar power from space may be only 20 years away.

But he adds that the cost of the undertaking will mean it will have to be another international effort along the lines of the Space Station.

That project is, as most readers know, not not scheduled to be completed for another 2+ years.  Do Europe and the U.S., which has provided more funding for the project than any other country, have the stomach for another large, high-risk project with uncertain returns?

Space stations and solar arrays are the stuff of scientists’ – and many libertarians’ – dreams.  Writing about this last, Kay Hymowitz had this to say in the WSJ

Libertarians come in many flavors, of course, but they share certain enthusiasms beyond free-market economics. They are often great consumers of science fiction, with an avid interest in space travel. And they have an almost unlimited enthusiasm for biotechnology, especially for advances that might allow us to manipulate our natures and extend our lives. Taken together, these elements constitute what might be called the libertarian dream–the dream of shaping your own meaning, liberated from family, from the past, from tradition, from biology, and perhaps even from the earth itself.

At the risk of being branded with the “l” word, I have to say that I’m all for the project. 

The U.S.’s contribution to the ISS will be about $35B by the time it is finished (not counting the maintenance costs over its estimated 8 year life-span).  That’s a mere drop in the bucket for a House that just passed a $516B budget bill that includes over $7B in pork/earmarks.

According to scientists, the solar array is doable.  Robert Laine from EADS Astrium, the Anglo-French space company says:

“It’s a matter of developing the technology to make the solar panels cheaper, to send them into the sky and have the energy conversion to microwaves or optical lasers which then beam the energy down to Earth.

“All of that is demonstrated to be technically feasible. Again it’s a matter of economics”.

It’s unclear whether a solar array project would play a meaningful role in the effort to make western nations more energy independent or not.  Yet what is obvious is that we need to seed a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand different ideas in order to ensure that we make the advances that we must make.

One thing is certain:  There’s no mystery as to where continuing to depend on Saudi Arabia, et al, will lead us.

China to be on Moon before U.S.?

CNN reports that Michael Griffin, NASA’s administrator, told an audience in Washington D.C. that:

“I personally believe that China will be back on the moon before we are.”

“I think when that happens, Americans will not like it. But they will just have to not like it.”

No, I expect that we wouldn’t like it one bit. Perhaps that’s just what is needed to re-ignite America’s passion for space exploration. A stinging defeat – and that’s what the Chinese landing on the moon while we do nothing would be – can have that effect on a nation.

More from Griffin:

“I think we will see, as we have seen with China’s introductory manned space flights so far, we will see again that nations look up to nations that appear to be at the top of the technical pyramid and they want to do deals with those nations. That’s one of the things that made us the world’s greatest economic power. So I think we’ll be reinstructed in that lesson in the coming years.”

The effects of losing round 2 of the space race cannot be defined in concrete terms. But Griffin is right when he says that there’s a certain panache that goes along with being the top dog in an area as visible and glamorous as space exploration. That leadership is ours to lose and that’s exactly what we seem willing to allow.

The U.S. is “more technically advanced. We certainly could be back on the moon faster than the Chinese, but we don’t have the political will and therefore the resources to do it,” said Joan Johnson-Freese, head of the Naval War College’s national security decision-making department.

It was just four years ago that China became only the third country in the world to launch its own rockets with people on board. Now it is aiming to build its own space station to orbit Earth, as well as a mission to the moon in 10 to 15 years.

Unlike the intense, cash-heavy days of the late 1950s and 1960s, budget constraints have slowed NASA’s previous rocket-fast pace. It will be 16 years from the time President Bush set the lunar goal in 2004 — if NASA even gets to the moon by 2020.

That’s twice as long as it took after President Kennedy issued the challenge in 1961; Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin fulfilled it in July 1969.

So what is America’s answer to the challenge of the Chinese? Raising NASA’s budget by a whopping 6% over President Bush’s status quo budget request.

“We’re thrilled!” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas… “This is a major step in the right direction to ensure that America stays at the forefront of being first in space exploration.”

No, Kay, it’s a baby step and one that should have been taken years ago.

According to Michael Griffin it’s too late to make any difference. But I don’t believe that. I believe what Johnson-Freese believes, that we have the technology and skills to stay ahead of them and reap the benefits of controlling space if only we can find the interest to do so. That such interest is lacking is an indictment of America’s priorities.

In the regard, Russia’s recent warning about the possibility of an arms race in space makes more sense than it did before Griffin’s remarks:

“We need to have strong rules about space, to avoid its militarization and if any country will place a weapon in space, then our response will be the same,” Space Forces Commander Colonel-General Vladimir Popovkin told the newspaper Trud.

On reading this I automatically assumed the statement was directed toward the U.S. Perhaps that assumption was in error.

Space Non-Race

I received an email from a friend today that made the following claim:

Planet Mars will be the brightest in the night sky starting in August. It will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. This will culminate on Aug. 27 when Mars comes within 34.65M miles of earth. Be sure to watch the sky on Aug. 27 12:30 am. It will look like the earth has 2 moons. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287.

Perhaps proving at once the power and fallibility of the Internet, this is not the case.

However, it so happened that we watched Apollo 13 last night, the Ron Howard adaptation of the true story of one of NASA’s greatest missions, and this, coupled with the Mars prank and yesterday’s successful space walk and repair of a gyro on the international space station, made me again contemplate America’s failure to explore space exploration.

It must be unfathomable to the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts that we have not set foot on the moon in almost 35 years. Nor have we made significant any effort to reach Mars or the asteroid belt in that time, President Bush’s interest notwithstanding.

Our failure to keep the initiative in this area is certainly a great mystery is to me. In fact, I rate it as a national failure, almost an embarrassment, that we’ve done so little.

The space program led directly to numerous advances in technology that we take for granted today and indirectly to who can say how many more?

The program brought America’s greatest minds together with a purpose, one they accomplished with aplomb and to increasing public apathy.

There are many Americans who ask, “What will I get out of sending men to the moon or to Mars?” That is a fool’s question. What does Joe Sixpack get out of watching Paris Hilton’s bony butt gutter-talk through a barn yard on cable TV? Or from guzzling down a 12-pack watching 22 gargantuan, steroid-enhanced freaks of nature move a little brown ball down a field?

What we would get, Joe, is an investment in the future that will – not might, will- pay off in ways that you can’t even imagine. More advances in technology would come. But more important would be the fact of undertaking a difficult, even dangerous challenge and, in the face of a doubting world, accomplishing it.

Challenges like space exploration are important because they prove the national character and give every American something to be proud of, regardless of whether they “get something” out of it or not.

In fact, an investment in space technology would constitute perhaps the most valid use of federal authority there is, being an actual investment in the future of the country, an investment we can expect to see a return from, as opposed to the welfare programs we constantly fund at a net loss.

It would be a welcome change to see the government acting more like a responsible steward of American’s tax dollars than a social worker with no concept of where his program’s funding comes from and no interest in anything but his right to spend it furthering his agenda. Acting, in short, more like a business, in which only investments that provide benefits to those who fund them are undertaken.

Those that inspire us, create greatness, and improve our lives are must-do’s. The space program is one such.

There those who say that we can’t afford to get sidetracked while we’re busy fighting:

  • poverty
  • illiteracy
  • Islam

I say that investing money and directing men toward scientific research and exploration is an answer to all of these problems.

Islam? Yes. Why do you think they hate America? Because we put our infidel boots on the sands of their deserts?

Hardly. They hate us because our way of life threatens to make theirs obsolete. After all, any society that can do something like this

will inevitably drive those that deliberately keep all of their people ignorant and enslave their women into extinction – unless the greater nation is beaten back with raw animal force.

In the field of space exploration and many others, now is the time to press ahead as hard or harder than ever, simply because we can, because doing so increases us, and because it shows the world what is possible in the absence of medieval oppression.

Exploring Mars

Wow! Read Bruce Murray’s editorial on what NASA’s mission should be.

I wish I could have said it as well. The one thing Dr. Murray left out was the utter failure of the government to allocate an appropriate amount of funds to the space agency.

Judging from the priorities of Congress, it’s apparently a better investment to dole out welfare checks than it is to undertake scientific research and space exploration. This is, of course, completely wrong. There are few more important objectives for America than establishing a leading position in space technology.

Columbia Report In: NASA Criticized

The verdict on the Columbia accident is in and reactions vary. Some seek to glorify NASA’s past achievements, while
others pretend to know better.

It’s still my opinion that NASA has been starved from a budgetary perspective and that failed missions and lost personnel have been the inevitable result.

While it’s amusing to wonder what might have happened if mission control had ordered hi-rez camera sweeps of the shuttle, the question of what good that would have done remains in my mind. After all, our astronauts were still in orbit with no practical hope of rescue.

After the political hand-wringing is over, the de-prioritization of NASA in general and space exploration in particular will still be a national disgrace.

Where is today’s John Kennedy daring to dream of something beyond this overcrowded planet? This person is out there, I expect, stifled by an overabundance of bureaucracy and a corresponding lack of governmental vision.

One has to congratulate the Brazilians for trying to expand their role in human development, even though their recent attempt ended in a disaster whose toll in human lives tops all of NASA’s fatalities combined. Yes, they failed, but at least they tried, and there’s plenty to be said for that.

Time for Shuttle to Retire

Regarding the Houston Chronicle’s July 10 editorial, "BREACH OF CONFIDENCE / Astronauts can’t explore space on a wing and a prayer": If more people had known about the shuttle’s problems, something might have been done differently – maybe. But the shuttle is the best that 1970s technology had to offer and nothing more. Its original design has been compromised by non-technical interference since its origination. Where are the scientific advances that will replace it? Since the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is woefully underfunded (compared to other agencies), how can we expect our best and brightest to work technological miracles? Or has this country simply lost interest in exploration and advancement?

The fact is that the shuttle should have been retired some years ago, put out to pasture by a better idea. Unfortunately, America chose to let the aerospace industry stagnate instead of investing in the one area that could have brought real dividends to everyone. Does anyone care?

Columbia Report In: NASA Criticized

The Houston Chronicle says that astronauts can’t explore space on a wing and a prayer. Sure, they’ve got a point. If more people knew more about the shuttle’s problems, something might have been done differently. Maybe.

What’s more to the point is that the shuttle is the best that 1970s technology has to offer and nothing more. If anything, its design has been compromised since it originated by non-technical interference.

Where are the scientific advances that will replace the shuttle? NASA is woefully underfunded when compared to many other non-productive government agencies. How can we expect our best and brightest to work technological miracles with very little funding? Or has this country simply lost interest in exploration and advancement?

The fact is that the shuttle should have been retired some years ago, put out to pasture by a better idea. Unfortunately, America chose to let the aerospace industry stagnate instead of investing in the one area that could bring real dividends to everyone. Does anyone care?

A Brave, Classy Woman

For the wife of the shuttle Columbia to say “fix it and fly again” is amazing. What class and vision. She’s a remarkable person.

For those who don’t know, I’m a big proponent of scientific research in general and NASA in particular. To me, it’s not surprising that we’ve had another shuttle accident. Funding for NASA has been inadequate for well over a decade. We shouldn’t be surprised at the failure of “doing more with less”, a strategy that fails daily in the business and political worlds.

We should fly the shuttles again, but we should also spend significant dollars developing a modern replacement for this wonderful aviation dinosaur.