Space Utilities


If you have to launch everything from earth, it is hard to make solar or nuclear power satellites viable--the most promising is Molniya orbit satellites serving a niche market for power in arctic regions (which currently pay a lot for power), which might work at under $200/kg launch costs. (This analysis from the CSTS, section 3.8.2, page 319; on the one hand it assumes advances in solar technology but doesn't consider earth based solar as a competitor; on the other hand I don't think it considers thin film solar which might help by decreasing the mass of solar panels). A lunar power station constructed with lunar materials seems like it might be profitable but CSTS doesn't consider it seriously due to the huge upfront investments. Earth to earth power beaming--??? (not considered by CSTS).

More Information

There was a minor media frenzy in the fall of 1997 in response to the NASA "fresh look" study of solar power satellites. For a reasonably good overview see "Solar Power Satellites Get a Second Look", SpaceViews, 1 Nov 1997. Note that this not a short-term commercial market; they are talking about at least 10 years and $5 billion in up-front costs, with an uncertain to nonexistent operating cost advantage over the competition, and those are the optimistic projections. For more details, see the testimony at the 24 Oct 1997 hearing of the House Subcommittee on Space. Some of the testimony is online at the Committee on Science hearing page.

As for what to cite in general, first I'll tell you what I would like to cite. It would be sources which give numbers on revenues and costs. Sources which analyze the competition in detail with specific lists of pros and cons, not just vague handwaving or going on without facts. The only thing I've run into which even attempts this is the CSTS, as mentioned above. The rest of the cites here are kind of random, because I'm citing them more because I feel I should give some feel for the vast amount which has been written on this subject, not because they contribute directly to market analysis of the subject.

A good overview is "Silicon Orbit -- Energy and Solar Power Satellites (SPS)", P.E.R.M.A.N.E.N.T., Mark Prado. Fairly well-researched and describes in general terms the usual technical issues. No economic details, though.

The Space Studies Institute has a plan for using lunar materials to build solar power satellites. This web site has some general information but I didn't see any detailed economic or technical analyses.

"The Future of Solar Power from Space", Spaceviews, Jun 1996, has a mention of a solar power satellite design by Geoffrey Landis which is supposed to cost $1500 per kilowatt. Spaceviews doesn't give the details (for example, what launch cost is assumed).

There is an article about earth to earth power beaming (also known as Power Retransmitter Satellites) in David A. Dunlop, with Peter Kokh, "Practical Next Steps and Economic Drivers of Space Development", Moon Miners' Manifesto #102, February, 1997, page 11. There is no economic analysis, but it is the only source on Power Retransmitter Satellites that I have handy. There is a Moon Miners' Manifesto web site here, but last I looked this article wasn't there yet. There is a one-paragraph mention is by Rohrabacher at page H9501 of the Congressional Record (5 Oct 1998).

A vaguely similar idea is the Russian space mirror concepts proposed to provide more sunlight to arctic areas. Don't think I've seen an economic analysis. They flew tests in 1999 ("Resupply ship launches on mission to Mir", Florida Today Space Online, 25 Oct 1998; "Mir's space mirror experiment called off after object fails to unfold", Florida Today Space Online, 5 Feb 1999) and 1993 (offhand mention in "Russia plans `space mirror' experiment to light cities from orbit", Florida Today Space Online, 24 Oct 1998).

This page is part of Jim Kingdon's space markets page.