131. UPDATE ON LUNAR SPACE POWER
I have previously discussed a number of space power technologies which will allow humans to tap massive, non-polluting, non-depleting power flows (see #5, #33, #51, and #104). In the mid to long term, it is these technologies which will allow humans to escape the fate of overshoot/die-off like "yeast in a petri dish".
At the moment, Lunar Solar Power (LSP) has the best potential, and the groundwork is being laid. NASA has reprioritized, and late last month announced that the next milestone will be a return to the moon by 2018:
Still, the new plan is "a significant advance over Apollo," he added, describing it as "Apollo on steroids." Among other differences, the new lander is larger, can put twice as many people on the moon, leave them there potentially for months instead of days, land them anywhere on the lunar surface instead of just at the equatorial region and leave the orbiting spacecraft without a crew onboard.SourceMichael Griffin, the administrator of NASA, envisions the new moon mission as taking the first steps to harvest extraterrestrial resources and energy:
Possibly, one of the most useful (resources) we will get from the moon is liquid oxygen. It can be extracted fairly easily from the lunar soil. If shipped from the moon to other storage depots, it will have very high value because it is half of the propellant needed for any exploration or any other rocketry activity over the next few decades. It is also reasonable to think about manufacturing solar arrays on the moon and then beaming that power around the Earth/moon system so that every spacecraft we build doesn't have to carry its own power system. Another reason we should return to the moon (first), is that we are not ready to go to Mars for a variety of engineering reasons. And the use of the moon and space station provide the best avenue for solving those problems.Source
The Space Review has a new interview with David Criswell, the father of LSP. This bit on the economics is interesting:
Dinkin: What is the minimum money scale for a viable lunar solar power (LSP) project that would cost the same as Earth generated power?
Criswell: When LSP approaches 100 gigawatts electricity (GWe) of capacity and has delivered in excess of 500 GWe years (GWe-y) of energy the LSP energy will drop below the cost of electric energy from conventional systems. This will likely require the order of $400 to $500 billion.
This is a bit over one year of the Department of Defense’s (DoD) budget or about three years of global expenditures on exploration and development of oil and natural gas to maintain about 85 million barrels of oil per day production. A 20-terawatt-electricity (TWe) LSP is the equivalent of 1,000 million barrels of oil per day.Source