Monday, March 31, 2014

Space Utility Company

Electricity is absolutely necessary for any and all space stations and space vehicles. Electricity warms or cools the interior, it creates drinkable water, and it even propels some craft. Modern spacecraft have to carry some means of power generation with them if they are meant to remain in space for any extended period of time. This is usually a set of solar panels and a bank of batteries. But these power generation systems add extra weight to the launch of these systems as well as the extra expense to design and integrate the system for each spacecraft. But this can all be avoided. Smaller versions of the Orbital Solar Power Station could be created as a means to power spacecraft. This would eliminate the need for each craft to have its own power generation system.

A space power station would essentially be a small solar plant. A group of solar panels or a mirror and turbine. But it would be outfitted with a wireless power transmitter, perhaps microwave or laser based. With this station in place, other spacecraft could simply be fitted with a receiver and then be placed near the power station in order to be given the power they need. This would reduce the amount of weight that the ship or station needs to have hauled into orbit and would reduce the design effort of making the ship completely self sufficient.

The power station would essentially become an orbital utility company providing power to anyone that wishes to be a included in it's "grid." It would be able to charge the companies/nations that own the powered spacecraft and would be able to grow with demand simply by adding either more stations or increasing the size of existing ones.

Orbital power stations for other spacecraft are a very viable business at this moment. Every spacecraft that is being designed is trying to cut weight. The elimination of a set of solar panels would be a huge step forward for the industry. Such a power station would not even be expensive to create. Some development of the beaming technology would be required, but the cost of launch and construction would be minimal. Since such a station could be sent into orbit with a single SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch, around 56 million dollars, cheap by space standards.

The dangers of this concept are that the station would never be allowed to have a power outage. A blackout could make millions of people become lost, if powering GPS satellites, or even kill someone, if powering an manned space station. But this can be avoided by simply creating a network of the stations to provide the appropriate redundancy.

The economics of this kind of a system have not been completely worked out. Whether it is a viable business model to replace individual solar systems with a single power station is numerically unknown. But if implemented properly, the ability to allow companies to save money in the short term by paying for less development and lower launching costs, will certainly attract many players in the space industry who launch satellites.

Overall, space power stations are something that would be a relatively cheap space business to get into  tomorrow, if the industry accepts it. It is something that can start small and grow organically, with the industry that has to have electrical power no matter what.

To see another variation of the Space Utility Company visit "Mobile Space Power Plants"

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