[ExI] Thoughts on Space based solar power (limited time?)

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Sat Nov 22 14:32:10 UTC 2008

hkhenson wrote:
> I am not even discussing space habitats when talking about power sats in 
> the current mode where all the parts have to come up from the earth.  
> There might be a few, perhaps even up to a thousand, people in GEO 
> monitoring the equipment that's turning out power sats but this isn't 
> what O'Neill had in mind.  I frankly don't think there will be any 
> serious human habitation of space this side of the singularity and after 
> that who knows?  In any case, humans as we know them will not be in charge.

OK, now I see where you are coming from. I had not understood that. Thanks 
for clarifying that. People move on to new things now and then. And 
sometimes they don't. Both are important at various times in our lives. :-)

I've cared about space habitation since before I was ten (probably no doubt 
in part indirectly due to your early efforts. :-) The possibilities of 
expansion into space is central to my views on the world (for good or bad), 
even as I have integrated that with ideas for sustainability on Earth. Space 
habitation I feel for sure is possible, as is making Bucky Fuller's 
"Spaceship Earth" work for everyone pretty much as it is. The singularity is 
a big unknown, we agree. But, we also don't know what role space habitation 
or an effort towards space habitation will play either. We don't know what 
role a positive vision of human life on Earth and in the universe may play 
in getting us a happier singularity. Which way do you want to bet if there 
are unknowns? :-)

>> There are a lot of good reasons to develop space habitations. Cheap 
>> energy
>> beamed back to Earth in the short term is not one of them IMHO.
> Cheap energy beamed back to earth and used for such things as making 
> synthetic fuel out of water and carbon dioxide is a good reason to 
> develop space based solar power.

It might well be.

There is still the launch costs and hardware costs and such. Whatever 
hardware you put in space, it could get, with weather effects and the 
earth's day and night cycle, only about six times more power in space than 
on Earth (unless you exploit some important aspect of space, like mylar 
mirrors). But the cost and uncertainty of launching satellites and 
maintaining it are potentially huge. Also, again it requires a large capital 
investment in a coordinated way. Which means it is high risk. People can put 
up solar panels today on their own house. Maybe it is not cost effective yet 
in many places, but if you look at the trends it is growing more and more 
cost effective for more and more people.

> They may be a good idea, but there simply isn't time for them to happen
> before the singularity.

We just don't know -- that's the nature of the singularity. So, we can ask 
ourselves what do we want as a vision of the future? Do we want to batten 
down the hatches and assume social collapse, and perhaps in making that 
assumption cause one? Or do we want to remain optimistic that endless 
possibilities await and continue to do things we think are productive?

And if life is *already* a simulation, then how do we want to live it 
anyway? :-)

We have no proof that strong (independent or swarm robotic) nanotech of the 
type Drexler suggests will ever exist. Thermal effects may render it 
infeasible or unstable (the heat dissipation required for that much 
coordinated communications and action). Nature has had at least billions of 
years to refine cellular machinery, perhaps billions more if it came from 
outside the solar system, and perhaps even longer than that if our ideas 
about the universe are wrong. And in all that time, nature missed something 
completely obvious that would spread across the universe?

While I have little proof (beyond a gut feeling from graduate studies in 
Ecology and Evolution), I'm more of the opinion that the energetics of cells 
is about as good as it will ever be. That the replication times are the same 
no matter how you build them. That the biological world with a complex 
ecology is a tough place to survive for cells and we are not going to see 
some super stand-alone nanotech any time soon, even though we may see lots 
of nanomaterials or artifacts assembled on the nanoscale. Now, this does not 
mean we cannot wipe ourselves out with plagues -- I'm just talking about 
something appearing that is somehow way "better" than bacteria optimized 
over billions of years (bacteria essentially form a worldwide supercomputer 
exchanging genetic information across the globe in days or weeks).

But neither of us can be sure.

Let's say nature has missed something and strong nanotech is around the 
corner like in your story. We still don't know what will happen or when or 
how other events will shape it. Why abandon the simplest way to get some 
diversity of living spaces and a diversity of ideas of how to approach 
things as space habitats? The image of Earth from space has had a profoundly 
positive effect on our society, an effect so large it was IMHO worth a 
thousand times the cost of the space program just by itself:
What else might we get by cooperatively reaching for more?

In my opinion, if the singularity is a mirror of who we are (or want to be), 
then we should think hard on that.
   "What is the Mirror of Erised?"

> I understand your points, but consider them to be way out of date.  Time 
> marches on and the future isn't what it used to be. Sorry.

If I'm arguing so strongly for emphasizing space habitations over SPS, think 
of it only as an echo from your previous successes. :-)

Maybe you are right and will succeed at SPS systems as well. Time will tell. 
Thanks for the reply.

Best of luck with your projects. And as I said before, when we get into 
space in a big way, and build those space habitats (O'Neill, Savage, Bernal, 
whatever design :-) we're going to need solar space satellites. So, 
technologically I think solar space satellites are a good idea and well 
worth designing and testing. It's more an issue of which way the microwaves 
are to be beamed -- towards Earth or towards space habitations. :-)

Anyway, sorry to take up so much list bandwidth on this topic.

--Paul Fernhout

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list