Sunday, September 20, 2009

Solar Power Sats

I've written a few times before about space solar power, and I was pleased to see a post about developments in this area on Friday's  Cosmic Log. After reading Alan Boyle's post entitled "making space power pay," I wondered if anyone had yet created an Orbiter add-on to model a solar power satellite. Orbiter add-on developers have simulated many futuristic systems such as space elevators and the Stanford Torus space colony, and solar power satellites are probably a better bet for the next 20 years (Orbiter add-on developers tend to favor manned spacecraft, but there are many examples of historic, current, and futuristic unmanned spacecraft as well).

So I checked on Orbit Hangar and did a Google search. I didn't find a powersat add-on, but I found a request for one in an Orbiter-forum post back in May. The requester was William Maness of PowerSat Corp., whom Alan Boyle quotes in his blog post. Maness was looking to contract an Orbiter add-on developer to create a powersat model for Orbiter that could be used in some visualizations and simulations of their proposed powersat system (a very cool deployable/inflatable concept). There was some interest and a lively discussion, though wasn't clear from the forum discussion whether he got someone to do it. But based on this video from PowerSat, it looks like they did, at least for visual purposes. Some parts of this video really look to me like Orbiter scenes (from 0:31 to 0:57 -  probably enhanced with video editing mainly to show the microwaves beaming down to Earth). Maness mentioned in the post that he hoped to simulate a launch to LEO on a SpaceX Falcon 9 as well as more specific technical aspects such as sun tracking and continuous thrust engines (presumably electric ion engines) to gradually boost the powersat from LEO to to its operational GEO orbit. Orbiter can do that sort of thing with some clever custom add-on programming.

There are obviously many challenges to developing and deploying solar powersats, but it's pretty exciting to be seeing even such early commercial development, and to think that Orbiter may have a small role to play in developing and promoting these systems.

1 comment:

Keith Henson said...

For power satellites to be a contender to replace fossil fuels, the cost of lifting parts to GEO has to come down by 100-200 times. That's far beyond what optimistic people think can be done just to LEO. The problem is the rocket equation.

But there are approaches where the rocket equation does not apply (mag lev launchers, space elevator, launch loop) and the possibility of going to much higher exhaust velocity than you can get with chemical fuels--laser ablation being the best for relatively high accelerations.

There is a discussion of a mixed chemical/laser system here

Keith Henson