[ExI] Obama Transition Team Examining Space Solar Power

Michael LaTorra mlatorra at gmail.com
Sun Dec 28 05:07:52 UTC 2008

Practical fusion power -- whether from Bussard's Polywell generator or from
some other device -- has many advantages over space-based solar power

First, the Polywell systems could be built in units small enough to power a
city (or even a large town) which means they could be numerous and
dispersed. So if one unit went off-line, power could be diverted from other
units through the national electric energy grid (which needs improvement,
but does already exist). So instead of perhaps dozens of solar power
satellites, we could have thousands of Polywell fusion devices, which
improves the robustness of the overall system.

Second, the Polywell devices do not need to be launched into orbit, which
saves a lot on their cost of installation. Also, maintaining and repairing
orbital systems is expensive and dangerous. Just look at the difficulties
space shuttle astronauts experience in maintaining the Hubble space
telescope. Solar power satellites would be orders of magnitude larger and
more complicated.

Third, we live in a world that is not at peace. Terrorism and war are
constant threats. If a nation depended on solar power satellites for a
substantial portion of its energy, those satellites would become prime
targets. And orbital targets are extremely vulnerable. Even a bucket of
nails launched into orbit on a head-on collision course with a solar power
satellite would be enough to wreak it. China, Russia and other
nations already have the technical capability to intercept and destroy
orbital targets with explosive warheads. Another name for a solar power
satellite is "sitting duck."

Fourth -- as an extension of my third point -- some nations may claim that
our solar power satellites actually ARE weapons, or are "dual-use"
technologies that could be weaponized. The tremendous power passing through
these satellites, if used to power lasers or other high-energy weapons,
would turn these systems into space-based weapons platforms that other
nations would be right to fear.

For all those reasons and more, I believe that our research and development
money for energy systems would be better spent pursuing multiple paths to
fusion (including Polywell, ITER and various condensed matter schemes which
cost relatively little but offer huge potential payoffs). Although I love
space and want to see us become a space-faring species, I don't think that
solar power satellites are the right technology for this historical moment.

Mike LaTorra

On Sat, Dec 27, 2008 at 3:03 PM, ben <benboc at lineone.net> wrote:

> Talking about what the Obama administration might and might not take into
> consideration:
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polywell
> From the final section, "Current/future work":
> "In December 2008, further news was announced concerning progress.
> Following submission of the final WB-7 results, Dr Richard Nebel has
> commented that "There's nothing in there [the research] that suggests this
> will not work," but that "That's a very different statement from saying that
> it will work.". Of possible interest is the fact that US President-elect
> Barack Obama's chosen Energy Secretary Steven Chu is specifically aware of
> the project, though there is no evidence that this in itself will lead to
> any federal funding from an Obama administration. Eighteen months ago when
> questioned during a talk at Google, Chu remarked of the Polywell that "So
> far, there's not enough information so [that] I can give an evaluation of
> the probability that it might work or not...But I'm trying to get more
> information."
> Bussard seemed convinced that this design will work, if it's scaled up
> enough.
> So, assuming that this design does indeed work, and that Keith is right in
> saying:
> "it is a sure thing that running out of energy will kill
> an awful lot of people.  So I don't care if you are concerned about
> energy or global warming, they both lead to the need for space based
> solar power, or (second best) 10 to 20,000 nuclear reactors.",
> and Bussard's opinion that:
> "Thus, we have the ability to do away with oil (and other fossil fuels) but
> it will take 4-6 years and ca. $100-200M to build the full-scale plant and
> demonstrate it.",
> is correct, would the successful demonstration of a Polywell reactor be a
> good thing, or a bad thing, bearing in mind that it would be likely to kill
> any efforts to realise SPSs?
> I'm sure that it's extemely naive to look at the above figures and come up
> with $1 - 4 Trillion for Polywell reactors, as opposed to Keith's estimated,
> um, I don't know how much, and i'm not looking back through all the posts on
> this topic to find out, for enough powersats.
> Also, i don't see any mention of how much power these Polywell reactors
> could be expected to produce.
> So I suppose the point of this post is to ask:
> Polywell reactors, worth supporting or not?
> Bearing in mind that the design is already done, the principle is proven,
> and all that needs to be done, it seems, is the scaling up. ("Bussard
> believed that the system had demonstrated itself to the degree that no
> intermediate-scale models will be needed, and noted, "We are probably the
> only people on the planet who know how to make a real net power clean fusion
> system"": Robert W. Bussard (2006-03-29). "Inertial Electrostatic Fusion
> systems can now be built". fusor.net forums.)
> (Apologies if the Polywell design has already been discussed on here)
> Ben Zaiboc
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