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Moon-Based Solar Power System - 2002-01-13


VOA's Rosanne Skirble has this report on a non-polluting energy source that is out of this world.

David Criswell of the University of Houston Institute for Space Systems wants to do more than fly to the moon. He wants to establish solar power stations on the moon that could replace all the polluting power plants on earth. "This would be a source of power that would last as long as the sun keeps putting out power and as long as the moon is in orbit around the earth," he says.

In the 1970s and again in the 1990s the U.S. Space Agency NASA funded research on satellite-based solar power stations, but ultimately rejected the idea because of its expense.

David Criswell, who managed a NASA review of thousands of lunar studies in the 1970s, says the moon is a more logical choice than satellites for solar power stations. "The materials are there on the moon to make these power collection units. The moon because it has no atmosphere or weather or any disturbing forces you can make all these components very, very thin. So, as you demonstrate how to do this and get into production you can put out enormous collectors very quickly compared to trying to do the same thing on earth, and they would have a very long life time," he says. "There is nothing to disturb them."

David Criswell says the lunar power system taking into account the moon's day and night cycle would include bases with solar panels, microwave transmitters, and reflective screens on each edge of the moon. "The sun is the source of power," he says. "Sunlight hits one or the other of those bases all the time. The base that is illuminated has solar arrays. It could be solar cells or many different options that collect the solar energy and changes it into electricity. The electricity is changed into microwaves and then the microwaves are transmitted to Earth."

Large antenna fields on Earth would convert the microwaves back into electricity that would then be plugged into the national power grid. David Criswell says the technology already exists to get started. "It is simply radar technology that was developed during World War II and is absolutely common now," he says.

David Criswell says what is lacking is a long-term commitment to put the stations in place. He says the cost, approximately $50 billion over ten years, is minimal, especially as global energy needs expand. "We need to increase our energy power output on earth by a factor of three or four just to bring everybody on earth now up to a reasonable level of prosperity," he says.

David Criswell argues that fossil fuels, blamed for global warming, are finite resources. Nuclear power produces nuclear waste. In comparison, he says, moon-based solar power is clean, virtually inexhaustible, and safe. "What the United States and other countries need to do is to ask themselves the following question," he says. "Why after the world got to the moon, brought all that data back, did we turn our back on it? Why are we turning our back on a completely understood world that is very useful? And, if we raise our sights and make use of the resources that are well within our sights, I think that we are going to open ourselves up to new options that provide us with healthy growth opportunities we never even thought of before."

David Criswell of the University of Houston Institute for Space Systems says such a moon-based solar power system could provide adequate electric power for everyone on earth by the year 2050.

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