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Space Solar Power hoax/illusion DEBUNKED
September 15, 2008

Despite several dozens comments I've posted in latest years on several Space and/or Science forums, blogs and news sites (to explain WHY the "Space Solar Power" is just a bad, incredibly expensive, useless, crazy, complex, unreliable and non viable ILLUSION and HOAX) I still see/read (on the same "science" sites and others) the SAME WRONG CLAIMS about this FOOLISH IDEA often reading that these FAKE PROJECTS are or will be FUNDED or there are labs and private companies seriously searching funds for that!

Then, after reading (on this WIRED Science Blog article) about a new "experiment" that ("should") demonstrate the feasibility of the "Space Solar Power" to produce, "soon", the "cheap energy" our planet needs, I've decided to add two comments on the Wired post and use the same text with some updates to write this ghostNASA article to try to DEBUNK the GIANT HOAX (and illusion) of the "Solar Space Power", like a "scientific" URBAN LEGEND that looks pretty close to ANOTHER (very common) "scientific" HOAX and URBAN LEGEND known as "the Lunar Helium-3 mining"!!!!!!

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The experiment is interesting (at scientific curiosity level) but NOTHING change about the CRAZY and NONSENSE IDEA (that, incredibly, was and will be funded!!!) of the "Space Solar Power Plants" to solve "soon" our [planet] energy needs with abundant and cheap gigawatts!!!

PLEASE Loretta!!!

PLEASE Wired!!!

PLEASE scientists!!!

PLEASE blog readers!!!

PLEASE scientific and non-scientific bloggers!!!

PLEASE journalists!!!

PLEASE someone, somewhere, someday!!!

In the name of logic, in the name of science, in the name of mathematics, in the name of common sense, PLEASE, start DEBUNK NOW (and forever) this GIANT ILLUSION of the "Space Solar Energy"!!!!!!

A space based power plant NEVER can give us "large amounts" of energy, "soon" and at "cheap prices", NEVER!!!

NEVER 10, 50, 300, 1000, 1 million mT of solar panels sent in space will cost LESS than transport and deploy them in a desert!!!

NEVER, not even when the "Space Elevator" will become real (and IF it become real) by the mid-end of this century, to be optimist!

The promise of "cheap Space Solar Power" is a FAKE and BIG HOAX that, magazines, blogs, forums, TV channel, journalists, websites, etc. that call theirself "scientific" can't support, since, there is NOTHING "scientific" or "true" in this proposal!

PLEASE (everybody) start NOW to DEBUNK this FALSE and CRAZY idea with (at least) the same number of articles, posts and comments written (so far) to SUPPORT it!

This is just a small example to explain HOW MUCH CRAZY AND ABSURD the "Space Solar Power" is:

Imagine that you have the roof of your house full of solar panels that give you 100% of the electricity you need... and, imagine that these panels have a weight around 500 kg. and you have paid them $20,000, then, a "crazy day" you decide to send YOUR own (500 kg./$20,000) solar panels IN SPACE saying "I did not want these panels on my roof just ONE day more!" :)

Well, assuming you'll find a private company able to carry in Space YOUR solar panels, the "price" to build YOUR own Space-Power-Plant and launch it to Earth orbit, will be pretty close to $8-10,000,000.oo ...or... 400-500 TIMES the price of your house's roof solar panels!!!

Of course, this price EXCLUDES the MAINTENANCE COSTS (accomplished in Space) if some (possible) damaged solar panels of YOUR Personal-Space-Power-Plant occurs!

Also in the very optimistic case you use "3-5 times more efficient" Space (vs. Earth) solar panels, the "price" to launch a "smaller" solar power plant (at over $10,000 per Kg. carried to LEO) ALWAYS will be around $3-5,000,000.oo ...or... 150 to 250 TIMES the price of the panels on your house's roof!!!

And THAT price CAN'T CHANGE for a large scale power plant NOR could fall to half or less (at least) in the next 50 years!!!

Then, STILL talk about the "future Solar Space Power and its cheap energy" is NOT "good science"!!!

If this [Wired] is a TRUE "scientific" blog, then, PLEASE start DEBUNK this "futuristic" URBAN LEGEND now!!!

Just to add, that, the "solution" to ALL Earth's (present and future) energy needs is/will be ONLY on Earth and NOT in Space NOR on the Moon... maybe, with the (100 TIMES MORE CRAZY) proposal to use the "Lunar Helium 3" in the STILL (and for the next 50+ years) UNEXISTING He3 FUSION REACTORS!!!

Another "scientific" URBAN LEGEND that MUST BE DEBUNKED by ALL the serious and honest scientific sources/forums/blogs/TV/etc.!!!

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[update] My [Wired Science Blog's] evaluations of costs for a "Personal Space Solar Power Plant" (from YOUR house's roof to Space!) was STILL TOO OPTMISTIC since, to have 24/7 of power, it CAN'T BE LAUNCHED to LEO, but MUST BE SENT to (about) 36 Km. of altitude in a geostationary orbit (like all TV Sats) to always remains in direction of your house and send all the energy you need by day and nignt!!!

Then, the "price" to build and launch (to GEO) YOUR "Personal Space Power Plant" is (at least) TWICE (than launch it to LEO) so you should pay up to $20 MILLION to have your "Personal Space Solar Power" ...or... 1000 TIMES the price of the roof-mounted solar panels!!!

Of course, if YOUR "Personal Space Power Plant" have a malfunction or STOP WORK you MUST repair it, using the ONLY spacecraft able to accomplish a repair/maintenance mission in Earth's orbit: the Space Shuttle!

But, unfortunately, the Space Shuttles can't be used for private missions, EACH mission costs between $600 million and $1,100 million (depending of the number of launches per year) also, the Shuttle can't reach the geostationary orbit (at 36 Km. of altitude) and (last but not least) the Shuttle fleet should be retired in 2010...

Then, EVERYTIME your "space power plant" will stop work, you MUST REPLACE IT with a BRAND NEW device, spending (EVERYTIME) a further $20 MILLION to launch it!!!

And THE SAME will happen (but on a VERY MUCH LARGER SCALE) with a TRILLION$$$ PRICED "Space Solar Power Plants" built to produce enough energy for the Planet!!!

Last, when you'll have your main/only source of energy IN SPACE, you'll NEVER CAN SLEEP QUIETLY, since (as shown by two USA and China sat-destroy tests) NOTHING IS SAFE IN SPACE (since EVERYTHING could be VERY EASY to destroy!) then, before (and, especially, AFTER) you launch your "home energy space power source", you MUST BE 100% SURE to don't have now (and NOT EVEN in the future!) just a "small, small, small ENEMY" that will have a "small, small, small ROCKET" able to ANNIHILATE the ENTIRE "strategic" energy source of your HOME (or the ENTIRE "strategic" energy source of your COUNTRY!!) in A FEW HOURS sending you family (or your COUNTRY!!) back to the Stone Age!!!!!!

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[update] Despite the "rough" example used in this article (the home solar panels sent in Space at current LEO payloads' costs) ALREADY shows (without need other comments or calculations) HOW CRAZY AND EXPENSIVE a "Space Solar Power Plant" could be, in this article's update I want to add some REAL costs to show, not only that an SSP is very expensive, but, also, HOW MUCH EXPENSIVE it is and HOW MANY TIMES HIGHER that cost is compared with today's ready available solar panels.

For my evaluation I first start from current rockets launch costs (not the EXACT rockets "prices", since they are well protected secrets) but some (pretty close) estimations available from different sources, costs that are unlikely to go down soon (maybe, just a few % less, thanks to commercial competitors like SpaceX, but NEVER to "half price" or less, not with today's technology and not in the next 50+ years!) nor be changed so much thanks to "scale economy" since that rockets NEVER can/will be built in PC/TV/iPod/cars-like quantities.

To evaluate the (average) payloads' launch costs we can use a new rocket like the SpaceX Falcon-1 or the bigger Ariane5 that (so far) has had 38 successful launches (on 41 total).

According to the data published on its wikipedia page, the current Falcon-1 model should be able to carry a 450 Kg. payload to LEO at a global "price" of $7 million (or $15,556 per Kg. to LEO) while the Ariane5 launch costs was $180 million "in 2000 price dollars" (according to astronautix) for the early (16 mT max payload to LEO) Ariane5, but, more recent (2006 or later) sources, say, that, the current (21 mT max payload to LEO) Ariane5 ECA costs are an (estimated) $250-300 million per launch (or $12,000 to $15,000 per Kg. to LEO).

Unfortunately, both (and already very high) costs are for low earth orbit launched payloads (where our solar panels may accomplish a full orbit every 90 minutes, or 16 full orbits per day!) while we need to put our panels to a (35,786 Km.) geostationary orbit (GEO) where it will always remains above your house (or your country).

Depending of the rocket, engines and configuration used, the max payload carried to GEO is (about) 40-50% the max payload carried to LEO with the same rocket, then, about 200 kg. with a Falcon-1 (an option not allowed yet) or about 8-10,000 Kg. with the Ariane5 ECA, that means we must (at least) DOUBLE the "price" of the (solar panels) payloads carried to GEO to (about) $30,000 per Kg. that, also since (both rockets) need some 2nd stage extra-propellents (or a full third stage) to carry/circularize the payloads' geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) to its full GEO position.

Now we need to know the price and (most important) the WEIGHT of land/roof-based solar panels to calculate the costs to send them in Space, but I did not give you here any source or link about that, since, today, the solar panels  are available everywhere and their prices well known by peoples (nearly) like the gasoline!

You can find hundreds offers on (e.g.) eBay and other aucion and e-commerce website, find many other models (with specs and prices) using your preferred search engine, visit the manufacturers' websites, download .pfd documents with detailed specs, weight, etc.

From my personal search, I've found, that, an average 230W solar cells array weighs about 20 Kg. and has an end user price around $1300, then, cutting the resellers' costs and profits, we can evaluate the manufacturers' price of the same panel around $1000.

Then, at $30,000 per Kg. carried to GEO (with an Ariane5 or Falcon-1) the launch costs to send the SAME (20 Kg./230W) panel to its operative place at 36,000 Km. altitude, is (at least) 20 Kg. x $30,000 = $600,000 that means you must spend OVER $4 MILLION to buy and SEND your home's roof, 6-8 panels, personal (1500W) solar power plant in Space!!!

In other words, the "price" to put the solar panels IN SPACE is (at least) 600 TIMES HIGHER than put the SAME panels on desert lands or on every family homes' roofs/gardens!!!

Of course (as explained in this Discovery Channel article) a space-based solar panel "could collect 40-percent stronger sunlight, 24 hours a day, regardless of the weather or any other atmospheric effect", so, the SAME solar panel in Space may give about (230W x 2 + 40% of the total) THREE TIMES the energy than put it on your house's roof, then, you need to send 65% LESS PANELS to have the SAME daily energy.

As consequence, the "price" to send each $1000/20 Kg. solar panel in Space falls to "ONLY" $200,000 (or "just" 200 TIMES the cost to put it on Earth!) and your full "personal solar power plant" can be sent in Space (to 36,000 Km. GEO) for the ("very cheap...") price of "ONLY" $1,300,000 !!!

But, before the "Space Solar Power" fans/supporters open the Champagne (to toast the news that solar energy produced in Space costs "ONLY 200 TIMES" that produced by solar panels on Earth) just wait to read the following list of (further) problems...

First of all, you CAN'T send in Space the SAME (low cost) solar energy panels for home use, but you need to buy SPACE-GRADE solar panels (made with higher RELIABILITY built-in) able to survive (10-15 years) the (about) -150C to +150C (night-day) 300 degrees temperature excursions they will face in Space (while, the commercial panels only works between -40C to +90) and that space-grade panels (now manufactured in very very very small quntities!) may DOUBLE+ the price of your personal space solar power plant, then, DOUBLE+ the "price" of the energy produced to "400 TIMES" the price of the energy from Earth panels.

OK, now that you have your (very expensive) space-grade solar panels and the rocket to launch them in Space, WHO will assemble them (while in orbit) to have your SSPP works and send you the energy?

Maybe, a small space solar power plant could be designed to "assemble itself" in Space, but it's hard to believe that a giant space power plant (so big to power a nation) can be "self assembled"!

So, a big power plant built in Space absolutely needs a "vehicle" able to accomplish the "assembly jobs" in Space and (most important) an ARMY of well trained ASTRONAUTS to do this (very complex) space-assembly job!

But, unfortunately, the ONLY vehicle able to accomplish this kind of space-assembly jobs is the Space Shuttle that will be RETIRED soon (in 2010) and NEVER REPLACED with a new Shuttle (at least) in the next 20-30 years!

And nothing change if the Shuttle fleet will remains in service a furter decade, since there are only three Shuttle and a few dozens astronauts able to fly it and work in Space, also, the Shuttles was designed to fly 100 times max (each of them) so all them are pretty close to the end of their max operating life and "could" flow just two-three dozens times more and carry to LEO a total payload around 500 tons max at a price between $25,000 to $50,000 per ton to LEO or TWICE that price if we add the stages, engines and propellents to send the panels from LEO to GEO.

Not forgetting the WEIGHT (to be carried in Space) and the (hardware and assembly) costs of the INFRASTRUCTURES that must/will join and hold millions solar panels in Space, the energy transmitters and (of course) the Earth-based energy receivers! ...and the MAINTENANCE and/or panels REPLACEMENT costs (to be accomplished at a 36,000 Km. orbit!!!) EVERYTIME these solar panels or other systems will (surely) have (VERY OFTEN) some malfuntions!!!

It's very hard to evaluate these weights and costs (since anything of this kind was NEVER done so far, not even in scale-model size!!!) but we can add a (very optimistic) +25% to the global (Space and Earth hardware) costs that boosts the "price" of the space-based solar energy to (at least) 500+ TIMES the price of the earth-based solar energy, that, by itself, STILL costs MORE than oil/methane/coal energy, despite today's very high fossil fuels prices! ...and it seems than nothing may change about the solar energy costs before 2015 or later!

But... (just for curiosity, of course...) HOW MANY solar panels we must sent in Space (and at WHAT total price) to cover the FULL electric energy needs of our planet???

Well, this CIA's World Factbook document (with 2005's data) shows that, every year, our planet needs (then, produces) OVER 18,580,000,000,000 Kwh!!!

The $1000/230W "sample solar panel" used in this article should produce (about) 650 Kwh per year, then, if we want to produce ALL the electric energy our planet needs every year with these low cost solar panels, we must buy (and deploy in desert places) 18,580,000,000,000 / 650 = 28,584,615,384 solar panels for a total price (at $1000 per panel) around $28,600,000,000,000 ($28.6 TRILLIONS!!!!) while, the total weight of these panels (at 20 Kg. each) should be around 571,692,307,692 Kg. or (about) 570 million tons!!!

IF "two times MORE efficient" and (maybe) "HALF priced" solar panels will be developed and produced in future, the (same KWh per year) earth-based electric power plants "global costs" could fall to "ONLY" $8 TRILLIONS, but, in the next 20-30 years the world's electric energy needs may DOUBLE, so, that "global price" should grow again to (about) $15 TRILLIONS!!!

The SAME, but Space-based, solar power plants need (about) 65% LESS panels (then, about 10 billion panels) but the "TOTAL PRICE" to send ALL the (costly "space-grade") solar panels to GEO (including all the infrastructures, energy transmitters, assembly costs, etc.) should be between 200 TIMES (optimistic) to 500 TIMES (pessimistic) than, the same, but Earth-based, solar power plants, or $3,000-7,500 TRILLIONS !!! ...that "global price" to produce all the energy the world will need (every year) in the next 20-30 years using the more efficient and cheap solar panels we'll (hopefully) have in future.

Also, the $3,000-7500 TRILLIONS can't be invested ONCE (and forever) but (at least) EVERY 15-20 YEARS since the panels will be DEGRADED by high space temperatures, 24/7 continuous use, short circuits, micrometeorites, high energy particles and rays (not shielded by the earth atmosphere) solar flares, etc. so, they need to be REPLACED (at least) FIVE TIMES (only in THIS century) for a TOTAL COST (early solar power plants + five full replacements) around $18,000-45,000 TRILLIONS !!!

Last but not least, assuming we'll find $3+ TRILLIONS of funds, we'll need (at least) 20 years to develop and these solar power plants and the vehicles to carry and assemble them in GEO orbit, then, we need (at least) 20 years more to launch, deploy and assemble the panels in Space, to (hopefully) have a full "electric energy independence" in 2050... but, unfortunately, we need this energy NOW, not in 2050, since, if we did not find enough alternative energy sources SOON, in 2050 (of before!) the World (and great part of its people) will be already DEAD from decades!!!

And now, the "Space Solar Power" fans/supporters can go back to play/talk about (if they still want to do it...) their loved/crazy "solar panels in space" GAME... :)

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[update] An evaluation of (USA only) costs made by Google confirms MY calculations!!!

 

If you talk/discuss about this idea on forums, blogs, websites, magazines, newspapers
please acknowledge the source of the idea, putting a link to my article. Thank You.

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