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Wildest Dreams

Updated: Jun 1

SPS-ALPHA Mark-III solar power station
SPS-ALPHA Mark-III Solar Power Station - Proposed by: John C. Mankins, former NASA physicist

I like impossible dreams as much as the next person. In fact, my wife would probably say I’m more susceptible to dreaming than the average person. Not the ‘REM sleep’ kind of dreams… never can remember those. We’re talking about the ‘imagined possibilities’ kind. I’ve had my share of hair-brained schemes and visions for the future, most of which she has thankfully doused with a healthy dose of reality.

However, when it comes to the wildest of dreams, no one can match the visions of climate enthusiasts. No project is too grand or costly to cast aside, even if its chances of success are minute.


Take Space-based Solar Power Stations, for example. (Yes, that’s actually a thing.)

It turns out that solar farms on Earth are hitting major speed bumps, including public pushback against the large tracts of land required and a ballooning backlog of requests for new transmission lines and grid connections. They are subject to inconvenient factors like cloud cover, snow storms, and nightfall, and it can take years to secure permits for their high-voltage transmission lines.

Scientists worldwide have been envisioning huge solar arrays in space, where there is no shortage of, well, ‘space’ and where the sun always shines. “A constellation of gigantic satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GEO) nearly 36,000 kilometers above the equator could collect sunlight unfiltered by the atmosphere and uninterrupted by night (except for up to 70 minutes a day around the spring and fall equinoxes).”[A]

Conceivably, the gigawatts of power they generate could then be converted into a microwave beam aimed precisely at a big field of receiving antennas on Earth. These ‘rectennas’ would then convert the signal to usable DC electricity. (Or possibly create the largest microwave oven on Earth.)

The idea was first proposed in a 1974 NASA study that called for 60 orbiting ‘power stations’. Space Agencies in multiple countries have floated proposals.


There are, naturally, a few realities to consider:


  • Energy transmission is not very efficient. A team at Caltech spent an undisclosed amount to deploy a satellite to test the idea. The energy sent Earthward by the craft was too meager to power a single lightbulb.

  • Skeptics at the ESA (European Space Agency) say it’s unlikely the technology will advance quickly enough to make any meaningful contribution to global energy needs.

  • The antennas required are so big their behavior cannot even be simulated. A single receiver station in the northern United States would fill an elliptical field covering more than 34 square kilometers (over 21 square miles).

  • The NASA plan was estimated to cost more than $1 Trillion (a low estimate) and would require hundreds of astronauts to work in space for decades.

  • NASA reckoned in a 2024 report that electricity made this way would initially cost 12-to-80 times as much as power generated on the ground.

  • Orbital debris: It’s estimated that the space-based arrays would be ‘penetrated’ about 75 billion times by flying debris in a 10-year operating life.

  • There is no known way to safely dispose of such enormous space-based structures, which would share an increasingly crowded GEO (Geosynchronous Orbit) with crucial defense, navigation, and communications satellites.

  • The transmitters alone are estimated to weigh as much as 7,500 tons (heavier than the Eiffel Tower). No cargo that large has ever been launched into space. The world’s annual production of xenon—the go-to propellant for ion rocket engines—is insufficient to carry even a single solar power station to GEO.

  • Given the maximum power output that could safely be transmitted, it would take two or three of the giant space power stations to replace one coal or gas-powered plant.


These realities are in addition to the need for new specialized spacecraft to build and maintain the stations or the vast industrial infrastructure required to support them. Engineers also point out huge challenges with solar radiation or temperature swings caused by Earth’s shadow that could cause the large structures to warp or buckle.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is the transmitters themselves, which are comprised of millions of tiny antennas that work in a synchronized pattern – like sports fans in a stadium doing “the wave”. For its signal to work, every individual antenna must be precisely timed and aimed, with errors measured in picoseconds (one trillionth of a second).


It’s a testament to human nature that people can be this creative while missing the most basic truths. In the search to command our own destiny, we will often scale impossible heights while missing the simplest solutions. There is nothing wrong with creative or ambitious solutions. The problem is that we can become so enamored with our solutions we fail to count their true cost.

Nowhere is this truer than in our relationship with God. Outward signs of religion can be comfortable. Men would rather perform countless ceremonial regulations than admit their true need to be saved. Ceremonies are pleasing to our egos; the eye and the ear are pleased; self-conceit is fed, and self-righteousness is puffed up, but they are ultimately delusive and good for nothing.

True religion is too humbling, too heart-searching, too thorough for the tastes of most men; they prefer something more ostentatious, superficial, and worldly. Yet, the truth is that our soul will need something more firm than ceremonies and rituals to lean upon in our final hour. In the day of our judgment, we will require more to defend us than self-justifying vanities.[B]

The purity of a godly heart comes from the only source of purity. It cannot be created from within us any more than black tar can be used to wash us. A heart’s cleansing is a Divine act.[C]


There are times when the best solution is the simplest one.

...Sometimes it’s the only solution.


“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” ~ Jesus, Revelation 3:20 NLT: New Living Translation



 

[A] A SKEPTIC’S TAKE ON BEAMING POWER TO EARTH FROM SPACE, Why we shouldn’t try to stick solar plants where the sun always shines, https://spectrum.ieee.org/space-based-solar-power-2667878868

[B, C] Quoted: Hennessey, D. I. . Niergel Chronicles – The Tenth Mantle Bearer (p. 93). arkharbor press. Kindle Edition.


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