Military Scientists Look to Space to Power Bases
Wise soldiers heed the modern military maxim: "Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics."
The need to resupply forward bases in the dangerous terrain of Afghanistan means that the U.S. military must risk vehicles and lives in convoys that can fall prey to insurgent ambushes. But some military researchers have begun considering whether energy beamed from space could offer a futuristic solution to that problem.
According to a 2009 report by the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., orbital platforms could deliver energy to forward bases by way of microwave or laser and cut back on the amount of fuel that convoys need to deliver. Space-based solar power would harness the full power of sunlight with massive solar panel arrays orbiting above the Earth's atmosphere.
That could reduce the fuel usage by generators that typically supply electricity to a forward base, and was deemed the best defense application for space-based solar power in the report.
However, "despite their shortcomings, terrestrial solar, wind, nuclear and other possible alternatives enjoy decades of heritage, whereas [space-based solar power] has yet to be demonstrated on any scale," said Paul Jaffe, electronics engineer and head of systems integration at the Naval Research Laboratory.
The report did not attempt to come up with a price tag for a military-focused application of space-based solar power. But it did include an early estimate that such military use would require more than $10 billion and remains more than five years in the future.
"It is currently quite unlikely" that the U.S. military would try that approach before civilian projects get off the ground, Jaffe told InnovationNewsDaily. The latter include European and Japanese project proposals, as well as a private effort by the California-based company Solaren Corp.
Even if the expensive cost of launching the necessary equipment into space fell to zero, Jaffe pointed to much technological development that still needs to be done before a space-based solar power system could be deployed. To his knowledge, the U.S. Department of Defense has not funded efforts that focus specifically on such systems.
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