Published on Oct 25, 2016
Carl Sagan’s 2/9/1990 speech before the 5th Emerging Issues Forum at NCSU, broadcast live on North Carolina Public TV. Introduction by Roy Park of Park Communications. Recorded by Dr. Woody Sugg on a home VCR. Sagan spoke at the invitation of Jim Hunt, former NC Governor and the founder of the Institute for Emerging Issues.
While a student, I referenced Dr. Sagan’s speech here in a 1990 radio interview with Gregg Maryniak and Chris Faranetta of the Space Studies Institute (SSI) and Dr. George (Jay) A. Keyworth II, former Reagan Science Advisor, on the subject of space solar power (SSP).
Princeton physicist Gerard K. O’Neill joined with sunsat inventor Dr. Peter Glaser and Raytheon engineer Bill Brown in the 1970s-1980s to work on solutions to projected massive 21st century energy requirements and biosphere preservation for a plan that would encompass an ambitious post-Apollo space enterprise for America and partners.
NASA and the Department of Energy released a joint study “Satellite Power System Concept Development and Evaluation Program Assessment Report” in 1980. NASA and DoE found a technical case for SSP but no financial case based on an assumption of materials launched from the ground.
The continuing story:
SSP concepts have undergone technical improvements by independent teams in several countries. Launch and propulsion alternatives have multiplied as costs decline. PVs and robotics have improved. The discovery of water at the lunar poles aids the business case for sunsat manufacture using lunar materials, a rationale introduced by SSI, whose study in the mid-1980s found a 97% cost-savings opportunity by using the moon.
At the D3 Innovation Summit Pitch Challenge on March 2, 2016 in Washington, DC, a Naval Research Laboratory proposal on SSP won awards in 4 categories. Theirs was one of 6 winners out of 500 “breakout ideas” submitted in response to the challenge issued by DoS, DoD, and USAID.
The solar satellite idea originated with Peter Glaser of A.D. Little Corp. in 1968. The O’Neill-Glaser-Brown vision called for public/private and multinational partnerships under US leadership to expand industrial and economic activity on the High Frontier, including sunsat manufacture from lunar materials via lunar surface machines and free-space processing infrastructure. NEO defense requirements would be met and asteroids would be captured and processed by the infrastructure for materials.
Over a 50-year period, SSP implementation would ease reliance on diminishing ground resources and fission for baseload electricity in the developed nations, extend the life of coal, oil & gas, provide clean energy to developing nations, and deliver instant reliable power to disaster zones and forward military operations.
The activity over 5 decades would allay Dr. Sagan’s concerns, here so eloquently expressed, over CO2 greenhouse warming and the problem of nuclear waste disposal.
These high flying assets would be the business backbone of space settlement. Dr. O’Neill’s large rotating habitats in free space, built from lunar materials and powered by the sun, would facilitate the growth of industry and species to a potential several times the capacity on the ground. SSP workers, their families, and support services personnel would live in normal 1g environments in sunlit cylindrical real estate in Lagrangian orbits known to be stable. These busy hubs, or “islands”, would be part “mill towns” for the workers, part farms, part university, part business, science, & professional parks, and part sports/recreation and tourism destinations. Travel and commerce between facilities and the Earth would be a relatively low energy-cost affair.
A political decision is needed. Darel Preble of the SSP Workshop at Georgia Tech has proposed that Congress pass the Sunsat Act (http://www.sspi.gatech.edu/sunsat-how…).
Just as the Transcontinental Railroad Act and the Comsat Act opened the rail transportation and satellite communications industries, the Sunsat Act would create a public/private SunSat Corporation to oversee SSP development. The President’s signature would permit permanent energy security for the US and partners. Preble projects that the $330 billion/year global comsat industry would be dwarfed 100 times by the sunsat industry.
A Kubrick-Clarke-like generation could follow, many of the early spaceborn growing up in 1g communities 60 degrees east and west of the moon in wealth produced by lunar-made SSP.
An online compendium of research and conference papers on the topics of solar power satellites, lunar machines, and manufacturing from in-space materials is housed at www.ssi.org, the website for the nonprofit Space Studies Institute founded in 1977 in Princeton by the late Gerard O’Neill.
“Our technology is capable of extraordinary new ventures in space, one of which Gerard O’Neill has described to you…It is practical.” – Carl Sagan, book jacket, The High Frontier (1989 edition) by G K O’Neill.