[ExI] Obama Transition Team Examining Space Solar Power

Michael LaTorra mlatorra at gmail.com
Mon Dec 29 04:52:32 UTC 2008

Estimates of cost per kwh for fusion range from 10 cents US to 1/10th cent
US. This compares favorably with other sources, at the least, and blows away
all others at best. (see

You say that if China, Russia and others have solar power sats, then they
are unlikely to be threatening ours (or one another's). Based on history, I
doubt that claim. Rather, it would seem more likely that each will seek to
protect its own sats while developing plausible means to threaten the sats
of others. This practically guarantees the militarization of space.

And that's without considering non-state actors, AKA terrorists, especially
al-Qaida and its ilk, who would like nothing better than to bring down the
power sats of all the aforementioned nations.

Most form of fusoin do produce neutrons, and this is a potential concern.
But when you've got lemons, you can make lemonade: Bussard proposed using
high energy neutrons from DT fusion to burn up nuclear waste, generating
energy and reducing remaining radioactive half lives from 4,000 and 5,000
years to 40 to 90 years. (see
http://www.askmar.com/ConferenceNotes/Should%20Google%20Go%20Nuclear.pdf )

You said that a power sat can't hit anything that's not under it. Do you
mean that it is impossible to create a directable beam? Surely such a thing
is possible. From geostationary orbit, a substantial portion of the globe is
potentially targetable, as is a large volume of low earth orbital space.

My being in favor of space development in general, but *not this particular
project at this particular time*, is not inconsistent at all; it's merely

Regards and best wishes,
Mike LaTorra

On Sun, Dec 28, 2008 at 5:10 PM, Keith Henson <hkeithhenson at gmail.com>wrote:

> On Sat, Dec 27, 2008 at 9:07 PM, Michael LaTorra <mlatorra at gmail.com>
> wrote:
> > Ben,
> > Practical fusion power -- whether from Bussard's Polywell generator or
> from
> > some other device -- has many advantages over space-based solar power
> > systems.
> >
> > 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.
> Not dozens.  The US alone requires several hundred.
> > 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.
> It's just a matter of cost.  Can you give us a price for the power?
> If you can get below penny a kWh, you beat the best projected cost.
> > 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."
> If China, Russia, the US and other nations have power sats they are
> most unlikely to be lauching nails or nukes at them.
> And most forms of fusion are big neutron sources.  You sure you want
> largle numbers of neutron sources around?
> > 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.
> That's true, but don't forget that a power sat can't hit anything
> that's not under it.
> > 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.
> That's a seriously inconsistant possition.  If power sats make
> economic sense, and they are one of very few sources that scale large
> enough to replace fossil fuels, then we should do them--regardless of
> power sats being a path into space.
> Frankly I don't think there is time for humans to go into space before
> the singularity comes crashing down on us.
> Best wishes,
> Keith
> > Regards,
> > 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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