Where the Sun Does Shine
Will space solar power ever be practical?
- By Linda Shiner
- Air & Space magazine, July 2008
(Page 3 of 3)
Perhaps the biggest hurdle facing space solar power is public concern about how low-level microwave beams will affect animals and humans. Never mind that the fear remains unfounded. Because of the widespread use of microwaves for communication, the Federal Communications Commission has established a safety standard for human exposure. In all proposed space power systems, the expected power density at the edges of the receiving antenna, where people are most likely to be affected, meets the standard. But explaining this to the public, which hears “microwave” and thinks “oven,” might require a large and costly education campaign. Another worry, that microwave beams could scramble a passing airliner’s avionics or harm passengers, could be addressed by restricting the airspace around the beams, just as the Federal Aviation Administration restricts the airspace over nuclear power plants. Space power advocates may find it instructive to study the political struggles of the nuclear power industry.
At the October press conference, speakers pointed out that the inevitable pursuit of higher standards of living will increase competition for energy, and that by mid-century, the global population will have increased from six to nine billion. It’s not much of a reach to apocalyptic visions of clashes over diminishing fuel.
Can the sunsat believers make the case that space solar power is one way to help meet the growing demand for clean, inexhaustible energy? And if so, will they find a branch of the government that can support and coordinate the necessary research? We want to believe.