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orbital plant may last three hundred years! The only major portions of the plant that need be replaced will be the solar cells themselves. Under the assumptions described in the thought experiment, a vast replacement market will exist for at least seventy satellites times twenty square miles each, or fourteen hundred square miles of solar arrays in space. Billions of photovoltaic cells (or square feet of thermal films) will be involved. Working under a profit stimulus of that magnitude, periodic technical advances may be forecast with reasonable assurance. Thus the major component that can wear out will be replaced periodically anyway--and replaced at much higher outputs per dollar, which is to say at less cost than not replacing it. If powersats truly possess ultra-long lifetimes in the vacuum of space, the amortized unit cost of solar electricity must be less expensive than any ground-based power plant.
Only a short time ago, communications satellites were thought to be
too expensive too, compared with undersea cables. Now there are almost
or planned for the near future-one hundred comsats in the sky A
not because proponents won the original argument but because the bulk of the cost (which then was the
building of our entire launch capability) was funded on another premise: landing men on the moon to show up the Russians. Today, as more and more communications channels are required, comsats have become the economical alternative to undersea cables. Indeed the history of technology is one of a new development first entering a market, second dominating it, and third creating an entirely new market and way of life. Semiconductors, computers, and electrostatic photocopying leap to mind. How could we possibly exist today without "xeroxing" our reports or our piano lessens? I have no doubt that powersats will create a new level of cheap global
energy usage, so much so that one day our descendants will look back upon
this era of energy indecision and wonder why such an obvious choice was so difficult. The only valid question is "when?" Solar energy from
powersats is inexhaustible.
It can't spill, explode, contaminate, irra
diate, strip the ground cover, or pollute.
If we are not careful how we go about it, however, it can bankrupt
Thus we must implement these--and other--energy concepts
tool originally described, the International Decade of Energy Alternatives. Achieving energy independence for the participating nations should be geared to a rigorous time frame such as:
1978 - 1980: Feasibility studies on all alternative
energy sources. Negotiations with
Determination of phasing technologies.
1986 - 1990:
Design of all systems, installation
1991 - 1995:
Manufacture and installation.
1996 - 2000: Expansion to significant scale.
The strong possibility that breakthroughs will occur in the harnessing of thermonuclear power or other sources need not change the initial
focus on the technologies selected during the IDEA.
throughs in fusion or other processes will take decades to become mean
ingful contributors to global energy sources.
When they do, the world
wide energy requirement (or the desire to explore space) will be so great that all additions to our present heavy reliance on petroleum and
future use of solar, coal, and fission power sources will be welcome.
Even now a list of technical goals can be compiled for the IDEA.
power sats are chosen during the early years of the international decade
utic • CA.
as the primary focus, for example, an intensive multinational effort would ensue to increase solar cell performance, cost, and weight; demonstrate high-efficiency microwave power transmission; assemble structures in orbit because prefab powersats are too big to be launched; and begin a new generation of space shuttles, or heavy-lift launch vehicles perhaps driven by ion engines, so that only a hundred or so flights will be required to assemble each five-gigawatt satellite. It will befall the IDEA planners and engineers the task of advancing energy technology while diminishing the human problems associated with former power systems. The new energy must reduce chances for environmental disruption or illness, sabotage or terrorism, diversion of fissionable material to weapons, and catastrophic accidents. Orbiting solar power stations can accomplish these objectives, and if they are built their use will spread to other non-energy pursuits as well. Manufacturing in weightless orbit where better metals can be produced by controlling crystalization during cooling
and in extreme vacuum where semiconductors can be processed by the billion for our myriad solar cells, astronomical studies from beyond our dense atmosphere, biological experiments in high radiation and the apparent lack of gravity--even tourism under the majestic blue earth spinning in black space-station sky--can grow out of the concept, and contribute further to the poverty-free economy that the power sats will begin to make possible.
The timing of technologies is fortunate. Just as birth-control technology arrived in time to present an alternative to overpopulation, the space shuttle, which will fly in 1980, is emerging as the first tool to build powersats in space. Other technologies also are merging toward the starting date. To reduce the weight of the enormous payloads required to build giant power satellites, thin solar cells only microns thick,
made of crystalline or amorphous silicon, gallium arsenide, or other semiconductor materials, are emerging from laboratories at Solarex Corp., Spectrolab Inc., Varian Associates, and the University of Dundee in England, to mention only a few.
The beneficial impact of a global energy system on society is overwhelming. Only a century ago human and animal muscle accounted for ninety per cent of the energy used in V.S. industry. Today they supply less than one per cent. Less-developed nations strive for similar
Abundant and ultimately cheap energy through U.S.
leadership for all peaceful nations would be the most dramatic example of good intentions that this country has ever exhibited. International
powersats supplying mankind's most necessary commodity would be the proselyting triumph that the Apollo moon missions were supposed to have been. Apollo was an engineering and scientific triumph, but it did not
become a stimulus for all nations.
This time we have the opportunity to
provide a financial stimulus, and one of enormous magnitude, instead of
a look-what-we can-do boast.
Industrial internationalization is in itself
a force for peace.
Would the Japanese have bombed Hawaii in 1941 had
they owned a significant portion of industry there? While the location of the superindustry proposed for powersats is in space, the only feasible launch site today is in the U.S. More important, plentiful power should foster the growth of democratic governments because it is translatable into greater personal freedom and a higher educational level.
"Manhattan-style" crash programs may be out of favor just now, but the rewards in this case seem to justify that kind of giant technological effort, especially if done through the international milieu of ten years of energy achievement. The International Decade of Energy Alternatives
is important to the orderly, economical development of any global power
system. The combined resources of many nations contributing to the research, design, manufacturing, and funding of powersats--or any of the other energy alternatives--will amount to "an economic equivalent of war," which is always more productive than a "moral equivalent." If we actually could harness the enormous human, material, and financial expenditures of a world war for a world onslaught on the energy shortage, the benefits
would expand and endure throughout the ages.
About the Author
Neil P. Ruzic, a scientist-entrepreneur, has been suggesting ways of utilizing space since before the first sputnik. He holds the first U.S. patent for a device to be used exclusively on the moon--a lunar cryostat --and has written seven books on the applications of science to social
needs, among them three books on space: THE CASE FOR GOING TO THE MOON, Putnam 1965; WHERE THE WINDS SLEEP, Doubleday 1970 (a Literary Guild selection); and SPINOFF 1976, NASA 1976. Ruzic is a founder and executive
committee member of the National Space Institute and a technology utilization consultant to NASA. Ruzic, who holds degrees in science, journalism, and psychology from Northwestern University, is the founder and former publisher of Industrial Research, Oceanology International, and other scientific magazines. His company, Neil Ruzic & Co., currently is developing the Island for Science on an island Ruzic owns in the Bahamas. F. is listed in "Who's Who in American" and similar directories.
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