"We in this country are too prone to deal with the issues facing us only
after the problem has reached the crisis stage.... I believe that Sun
Power will help to show that energy from space is a realistic proposal
and that it has great commercial potential."
"The time is again right to bring this very important energy option to
the attention of the American public."
Joseph P. Allen
Space Shuttle astronaut
"The contents of this book should be of interest to the non technical
reader.... Nansen presents the rationale for solar power satellites in an
understandable form devoid of the usual technical jargon to make the
subject accessible to the public."
Dr. Peter E. Glaser
Inventor of the solar power satellite concept
"This is a timely subject for many reasons: the growing realization of
the need for energy, the enhanced environmental consciousness, and the
strong . . . governmental interest in finding appropriate tasks for the
defense industrial infrastructure."
Gregg E. Maryniak
Director, International Space Power Program
International Space University
"Finally, the world can raise its hopes for a renewable, nonpolluting
energy source. Sun Power should come . . . as good news after what has
been a dismal public record on power issues. As a writer who has
covered power issues for two daily newspapers, I consider this an
opportune time for Sun Power to be published."
Formerly with the Tri-Cities Herald
The sun. Worshipped by ancient people as the basis of all life,
rising in glory each morning, climbing to the apex of the sky brilliant
in its blinding white radiance‹a seething mass of gases. An
atomic furnace radiating energy into the great void of space‹
year after year for billions of years.
The earth. A blue-and-white swirl of beauty in the cold universe
and yet bathed in the sun's life-giving light since its beginning.
Teeming with untold billions of humans striving for a better
life and yet hurtling toward destruction in that mad quest.
What new wonders can the sun hold in store for us in the next
century? What will the world be like in the twenty-first century?
Will America be a prosperous, dynamic nation or will our children's
children look to us and ask, "What happened to our world?"
I first heard of solar power satellites one day in 1973. I was
back in Seattle after working in New Orleans as an engineering
manager for Boeing on the Saturn/Apollo lunar landing
program and Space Shuttle definition studies. When I walked
into the office one morning my secretary greeted me with a
big smile and said, "Congratulations on your new job."
My only response was a surprised, 'What new job? I'm
working on the space task force."
"Didn't you hear the public address announcement this
morning? You've been appointed manager of the new Design-
to-Cost Laboratory, effective today."
I was stunned. I was out of the space business. I stared at
her without being able to say a word and headed for the office
of the company's president.
The sun is a seething mass of gases‹a giant nuclear fusion reactor.
An atomic furnace bathing the earth with its life-giving energy.
Through the ages the earth has gathered the energy, turning some back
into the void of space, converting some into the life that sets our planet
apart from the others in our solar system. Some was gradually stored in
the mantle of the earth's surface, some continuously stirred the fluids
and gases that cover its surface. Throughout time it has been the source
of all our energy.
What has it meant to us in the past? The past is important, because
it can teach us the lessons that allow us to progress into the future and
unravel its secrets with knowledge and understanding.
In 1973 the United States was at the peak of its economic
development. It was the highest creditor nation, it had the highest per-
capita gross domestic product, and real income for the average worker
was at its maximum. Then Saudi Arabia led the Arab countries and
other OPEC nations in the 1973-74 oil embargo. Our comfortable,
energy-rich world was suddenly powerless. We waited in gas lines,
reviling the oil companies. We cursed the Arabs and demanded that the
government "do something." It was a dramatic start to the current energy
crisis, which has now stretched over two decades.
In the early 1970s, the United States was riding the wave of
abundant wealth‹wealth provided by low-cost energy. Then came the
OPEC oil embargo. The resulting energy crisis is now two decades old.
America has fallen from its economic pinnacle and has suffered the woes
of recession. Real income has dropped as the United States has gone
from being the largest creditor nation to the largest debtor nation. It has
lost domestic market share in all 26 major industries, per-capita gross
domestic product has dropped from first to tenth position, and the
national debt has soared to $5 trillion.
Ronald E. Bates of the Chicago Tribune vividly characterized the
situation as "a war of economic survival . . . and the US is losing."
The energy crisis initiated by the oil embargo of 1973-74
led to the investigation of many potential alternative energy
sources. Some were explored by the energy-generating
companies‹both privately and publicly owned‹and some
were proposed by individuals. Others were under the direction
of developmental agencies. The federal government combined
their efforts within the Department of Energy, which was
formed by merging several governmental agencies. During the
ensuing years of the 1970s the activity level was very high, but
with the breakdown of the oil cartel the urgency was reduced
and much of the activity has returned to business as usual.
However, a great deal of basic knowledge was generated and
many ideas were suggested. Let's review what was considered at
the time and what transpired in the meantime.
Electricity: The Energy
Form of the Future
Since the beginning of man's experience on this earth, he
has stood in wonder and fear as lightning laced the sky and
thunder drove the terror of the unknown into his soul. What
was this fearsome force that could make night like day, strike
great trees asunder, burn forests, and occasionally strike a
victim dead in its path? The ancients attributed this frightening
phenomena to the wrath of their gods. It was not until the
eighteenth century when Benjamin Franklin conducted his
famous experiments that fact started to find its way into the
mystery of lightning.
For most people at that time electricity still carried that
strange mysticism. What good could it be? What could it be
used for? It was a scientific curiosity for many years, but after
the start of the nineteenth century our comprehension of its
potential began to grow rapidly.
I have discussed the challenge we face as we prepare to enter the
twenty-first century. I have told you about the background of solar
power satellites and explored our energy heritage. I have reviewed the
impact of the 1973-74 energy crisis and what it has done to our country
and the world. I have measured the capability of the known energy
options against a set of criteria for the future and found there was only
one source that has the potential to pass all the tests. So what is the
next step? To answer that question it will be useful to look at the
energy situation as it exists today.
The profile of United States energy use falls into two major energy
segments. One is electric energy and the other the direct use of energy
for heating and transportation. Nearly all of the latter is furnished by
fossil fuels: oil, natural gas, and coal. However, it is the electricity
generation that is important to the future as we look to the development
of new energy sources.
The question still remains: "What should we do now?"
My answer to that question is clear and unequivocal. The United
States should proceed immediate!), with all possible speed, to develop
and deploy the solar power satellite energy system as the energy source
for the twenty-first century.
The first half of this book addressed the importance of energy to the
development of civilization and the contribution made by each source.
Of particular importance was the economic growth associated with the
nations that first made use of each new energy source. It also identified
solar power satellites as the energy system for the future. The remainder
of the book addresses why and how we, as a nation, should go about
developing solar power satellites.
The subject of economics is probably one of the most discussed and
controversial subjects known to man. This is true because every human
being on earth today is a practicing economist with their own ideas and
views. There are very few decisions we make in our daily lives which do
not consider cost to some degree, even if it involves bartering instead of
money. In its simplest form, it is a question of whether we have enough
money in our pocket to buy today's newspaper, or in a more
fundamental society, whether an exchange of a bunch of bananas is
worth a t-shirt. As we move up the scale of economic decisions, the
choice of personal transportation stands out‹do we buy a new car, and
if so, which one? Or, for a laborer in Beijing, China, can he afford to
buy a bicycle. In India, it may simply be a decision to buy a new pair of
The cost of electricity generated by solar power satellites compared
to coal reaches to the heart of the reason to develop solar power
satellites. We cannot ignore the immense economic benefits, not to
mention the environmental necessity to stop polluting the atmosphere
and cease further accumulation of deadly wastes from nuclear power
The real issue is the validity of the cost estimates that make up the
basis for these cost comparisons. Even though estimating is part fact
and part guesswork the estimates must be close to reality or the great
economic advantage is lost and the system will not be widely deployed.
Many factors go into making cost estimates, including related
experience and the quantity of parts being manufactured. When a new
venture is being developed it is often impossible to compare everything
to previous experience, but by comparing some we are able to predict
the remainder from similar experiences of the past.
Let me take you on a tour of a solar power satellite. We'll look at
one as defined for the Department of Energy in the late 1970s. It was
designed to provide 5,000 megawatts of electrical power to the earth,
which is equal to five typical nuclear power plants. As we make the tour
I will discuss how technology has evolved over the intervening years
and how the new models will change in the future. One change will
likely be a reduction in size to 1,000 megawatts capacity to better match
As we approach the satellite we see a huge rectangular array of solar
cells stretching into the distance, bathed in dazzling sunlight. A shining
jewel in the blackness of space. Its frame is hidden in the shadow of the
solar array, and at one end is a giant flat disk, textured with millions of
small rectangular slots to focus the energy streaming toward the earth
22,300 miles below.
The miracle of the solar power satellite energy system is built
around the concept of transmitting huge amounts of energy over
thousands of miles without the use of wires. Wireless power
transmission has been the dream of many people, but today technology
is making it happen. The energy beam has no moving parts, it cannot
be seen, it will pass effortlessly through the atmosphere and clouds, it
will be very large to keep the energy density low, it will be safe, it will
be environmentally clean, and it will be an efficient transmitter of
How do we go about creating the fourth era of energy‹at the
moment merely a vision? How do we accomplish such an enormous
task? What is the first step? The Department of Energy, the government
agency responsible for developing new energy systems, abandoned the
idea in 1980 and has been unwilling to reevaluate the concept since.
Their position was made clear in a letter I received in February of 1995
from a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy in response to a letter I
sent to the Secretary of Energy. I had urged the Department of Energy to
reevaluate the solar power satellite concept in light of the major
advances that have been made over the years since 1980 and to
establish a program office to coordinate with other interested
government and commercial organizations. The DOE's letter stated:
For over two decades, the Department of Energy (DOE) and its
predecessor agencies have supported various technologies that
could increase domestic contributions toward our nation's
energy needs. Among the energy concepts investigated and
terminated were ocean thermal systems, wave energy
and river current systems, solar ponds, solar heated wind towers
and, as you point out, space solar systems.
All of the foregoing systems are technically feasible.
However, as with most research investments, choices are
necessary. Typically, options have been eliminated because
energy costs were judged to be high, energy contributions were
likely to be limited to only a few regions, reliability appeared
to be low, estimated development costs were high, or other
risks to commercial success were projected.
In line with the President's program to reduce federal
spending, the Department is developing plans to reduce
program costs by more that $10 billion over the next five
years. Given these commitments, opportunities for initiating
new programs are limited and we are generally not able to offer
encouragement for federal funding for space power. Of course,
where reasons are compelling, we will strive to accommodate.
However, for the most part, it will be necessary to complete or
terminate programs where possible and to maximize returns
from investments in continuing programs.
It is the unique nature of humanity to try and reach beyond
ourselves, to strive for knowledge we do not have, and to make our own
mark on the world that has led to the incredible expansion of
humankind's dominance of this world in a time span that is but a blink
of an eye in relationship to the age of creation. No other creatures on
earth have these characteristics. By controlling our environment, we
humans have made it possible to live nearly anyplace we desire. We do
not change our ability to survive in different environments; we simply
go beyond ourselves and make the environment suitable to survive.
With the subjugation of energy to our will, we have been able to greatly
multiply our ability and reach out to ever more distant horizons.
As we look back in history, we find that humanity is always
searching for a new frontier to explore and develop. If we do not find one
we become restless and try to take one from our neighbor, which often
results in war.
We are reaching the bottom of the well. The oil shortages of the
1970s were our wake-up call, but we've fallen back into apathetic
slumber. The world is fast approaching a crisis of global
proportions when our comfortable lives will be plunged into
darkness as the last drop of oil is sucked from the ground. Our
planet is choking on the deadly by-products of our energy
hunger‹foul air, radiation poisoning, oil-slicked waters, and acid
Sun Power offers a vision of hope and a plan to begin the long
journey to energy independence and global healing within the next
In this startling new book, aerospace visionary Ralph Nansen
reveals a grand but elegant solution to the problems plaguing our
energy-hungry world. A plan for capturing the vast power of our
sun in space, where the sun shines 24 hours a day, 365 days
per year. A plan using solar power satellites to provide abundant,
low-cost, nonpolluting electric energy for all humanity for as long
as the sun shines. This book will change how we look at energy and
will ultimately benefit every person on the earth.
Ralph Nansen has been involved in space
engineering for over 35 years. He
participated in the Saturn/Apollo
program, the Space Shuttle
development, and led the Boeing team
that developed the overall concept of
solar power satellites under the auspices
of the Department of Energy and NASA.
Mr. Nansen has testified before
Congress, spoken globally about solar
power satellites, and published many articles on the subject.
Wednesday, 31-Dec-1969 18:00:00 CST
CSR/TSGC Team Web