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An interesting response

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  • hkhenson
    I have recently been discussing the scope of a space based power satellite project with a bunch of high powered space engineers. They are all accomplished, one
    Message 1 of 7 , Apr 9, 2008
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      I have recently been discussing the scope of a space based power
      satellite project with a bunch of high powered space engineers.

      They are all accomplished, one of them was the project engineer for
      the first moon lander.

      This started when I scaled a moving cable space elevator large enough
      (2000 tons a day) to put a real dent in the carbon/energy problems
      (300 GW/year production rate, displacing all the coal fired plants in
      the US in one year).

      So when one of them posted a study of a rocket with about twice the
      payload of a Saturn V, I extrapolated how many of them and what rate
      of launches it would take to ferry 2000 tons per day to GEO using
      rockets instead of a much more questionable space elevator.

      To my surprise, the energy payback went from under a day for the
      elevator to 15 days for rockets. You would have to dedicate the
      first 3 power satellites (15 GW) to making rocket
      propellants. Hardly a deal breaker. Takes 10 200 ton payload
      rockets each flying once a day to do it and with a blank check
      perhaps under 5 years to work up to this production rate and 6-7
      years from start to get to a $50 billion a year revenue stream
      increasing at $25 billion a year.

      I didn't expect a response other than something like "that's
      interesting" but they reacted almost with horror, saying the best
      they could hope for is an almost useless 1 GW demonstration power sat
      in the next 10 or 15 years and that the only choice we have is to
      build lots of nuclear power plants.

      Now countries and companies in the world for the most part realize
      that there is a serious problem with energy, and that it isn't going
      to get better as we slide down the far side of oil production. It
      seems to me that a project that really could displace all fossil
      sources of energy with renewable solar energy and (using penny a kWh
      electricity) reduce the price of synthetic gasoline to a dollar a
      gallon would get a lot more support than a tiny demonstration project
      no matter how few in billions it cost.

      There is no doubt it's a big project, on a par with what we have
      spent on the Iraq war. But the market for energy is massive, oil
      alone is $3,000 billion a year. And there is no lack of money to
      fund it, Exxon can't figure out what to do with their profits so they
      are buying back $30 billion of their stock a year. The Chinese have
      a few thousand billions in US notes they would spend on a secure
      energy source large enough to meet their growing needs.

      So my question to you, is which be an easier project to sell, a
      demonstration project for a small number of billions over 10 or 15
      years, or a really huge project in the high hundreds of billions to
      massively displace coal and oil with solar energy from space in under
      ten years?

      Keith Henson

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    • Ronn! Blankenship
      ... Or perhaps the real question is which of the following is the case? (1) Your figures and their figures disagree that much, in which case it might be
      Message 2 of 7 , Apr 10, 2008
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        At 12:21 AM Thursday 4/10/2008, hkhenson wrote:
        >I have recently been discussing the scope of a space based power
        >satellite project with a bunch of high powered space engineers.
        >
        >They are all accomplished, one of them was the project engineer for
        >the first moon lander.
        >
        >This started when I scaled a moving cable space elevator large enough
        >(2000 tons a day) to put a real dent in the carbon/energy problems
        >(300 GW/year production rate, displacing all the coal fired plants in
        >the US in one year).
        >
        >So when one of them posted a study of a rocket with about twice the
        >payload of a Saturn V, I extrapolated how many of them and what rate
        >of launches it would take to ferry 2000 tons per day to GEO using
        >rockets instead of a much more questionable space elevator.
        >
        >To my surprise, the energy payback went from under a day for the
        >elevator to 15 days for rockets. You would have to dedicate the
        >first 3 power satellites (15 GW) to making rocket
        >propellants. Hardly a deal breaker. Takes 10 200 ton payload
        >rockets each flying once a day to do it and with a blank check
        >perhaps under 5 years to work up to this production rate and 6-7
        >years from start to get to a $50 billion a year revenue stream
        >increasing at $25 billion a year.
        >
        >I didn't expect a response other than something like "that's
        >interesting" but they reacted almost with horror, saying the best
        >they could hope for is an almost useless 1 GW demonstration power sat
        >in the next 10 or 15 years and that the only choice we have is to
        >build lots of nuclear power plants.
        >
        >Now countries and companies in the world for the most part realize
        >that there is a serious problem with energy, and that it isn't going
        >to get better as we slide down the far side of oil production. It
        >seems to me that a project that really could displace all fossil
        >sources of energy with renewable solar energy and (using penny a kWh
        >electricity) reduce the price of synthetic gasoline to a dollar a
        >gallon would get a lot more support than a tiny demonstration project
        >no matter how few in billions it cost.
        >
        >There is no doubt it's a big project, on a par with what we have
        >spent on the Iraq war. But the market for energy is massive, oil
        >alone is $3,000 billion a year. And there is no lack of money to
        >fund it, Exxon can't figure out what to do with their profits so they
        >are buying back $30 billion of their stock a year. The Chinese have
        >a few thousand billions in US notes they would spend on a secure
        >energy source large enough to meet their growing needs.
        >
        >So my question to you, is which be an easier project to sell, a
        >demonstration project for a small number of billions over 10 or 15
        >years, or a really huge project in the high hundreds of billions to
        >massively displace coal and oil with solar energy from space in under
        >ten years?
        >
        >Keith Henson


        Or perhaps the real question is which of the following is the case?

        (1) Your figures and their figures disagree that much, in which case
        it might be worthwhile to have someone else independently check both
        sets of figures (probably a good idea in \\any\\ case), or

        (2) There is more on the agenda than simply finding longer-lasting,
        less-polluting sources of energy to replace oil.


        ? Maru


        . . . ronn! :)



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      • Dan M
        ... OK, let s do the math on that. At the present time, the cost of lift to geosynchronous orbit is $20,000 per kg or $20M per metric ton. Ten 200 ton
        Message 3 of 7 , Apr 10, 2008
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          >Takes 10 200 ton payload
          > rockets each flying once a day to do it and with a blank check
          > perhaps under 5 years to work up to this production rate and 6-7
          > years from start to get to a $50 billion a year revenue stream
          > increasing at $25 billion a year.

          OK, let's do the math on that. At the present time, the cost of lift to
          geosynchronous orbit is $20,000 per kg or $20M per metric ton. Ten 200 ton
          payloads would be about 40 billion per day or 14.6 trillion per year.
          That's roughly the GDP of the US.

          The trick is, as it always has been, to lower launch costs. Unfortunately,
          even in inflation adjusted dollars, launch costs haven't dropped much over
          the past 40 years.

          The income stream (which you estimate at 25 billion/year) would also have to
          support ground receivers, safety mechanisms, transmission lines, etc. Plus,
          it costs money to build the actual arrays. If you can find a way to drop
          launch costs a factor of 100 to 500, then space based solar becomes a
          player. There is nothing like that on the horizon.

          Dan M.


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        • Alberto Vieira Ferreira Monteiro
          ... Maybe even if launch costs were _zero_, orbital power satellites could still have a negative energy net production. Last time I heard (when I was working
          Message 4 of 7 , Apr 10, 2008
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            Dan M wrote:
            >
            > The trick is, as it always has been, to lower launch costs. Unfortunately,
            > even in inflation adjusted dollars, launch costs haven't dropped much over
            > the past 40 years.
            >
            Maybe even if launch costs were _zero_, orbital power satellites could
            still have a negative energy net production. Last time I heard (when I
            was working in the Space Industry, and not in the Oil Industry), solar
            arrays required more energy to be built than the energy they produced
            during their lifetimes.

            Alberto 'oil rulez, fsck space!' Monteiro
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          • hkhenson
            ... It was an interesting blog, though *social problems* are in a very different class than engineering ones like going to the moon. At least they are now.
            Message 5 of 7 , Apr 16, 2008
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              At 12:00 PM 4/16/2008, Dan M wrote:
              >(Keith wrote)
              > >
              > > At 12:00 PM 4/11/2008, Dan M wrote:
              > >
              > > (Keith wrote)
              > > > >Takes 10 200 ton payload
              > > > > rockets each flying once a day to do it and with a blank check
              > > > > perhaps under 5 years to work up to this production rate and 6-7
              > > > > years from start to get to a $50 billion a year revenue stream
              > > > > increasing at $25 billion a year.
              > > >
              > > >OK, let's do the math on that. At the present time, the cost of lift to
              > > >geosynchronous orbit is $20,000 per kg or $20M per metric ton. Ten 200
              > > ton
              > > >payloads would be about 40 billion per day or 14.6 trillion per year.
              > > >That's roughly the GDP of the US.
              > >
              > > And the analogy would be how impossible it is to build a dam sending
              > > all the contents in Fed Ex envelopes.
              > >
              > > >The trick is, as it always has been, to lower launch costs.
              > > Unfortunately,
              > > >even in inflation adjusted dollars, launch costs haven't dropped much
              > > over
              > > >the past 40 years.
              > >
              > > I agree with you. The question is why?
              >
              >I wrote a blog on that general topic at the Scientific American website
              >
              >http://science-community.sciam.com/blog-entry/Dan-Ms-Blog/Unfortunate-Promin
              >ent-Misconception-Concerning-Tech/300004870

              It was an interesting blog, though *social problems* are in a very
              different class than engineering ones like going to the moon. At
              least they are now. Ask and I will point you to a dark story about
              how they might be solved.

              >The essence is that when the engineering community starts working on
              >something, it starts working on the obviously solvable problems first.
              >Then, progress slows as the easy problems are solved and harder problems are
              >faced. The point at which this happens, and the manner in which it happens
              >is based on what is found. The speed of sound barrier is rather
              >significant, and we have not found a way to develop efficient planes that go
              >at Mach 1.1 almost 60 years after we first went above Mach 1.
              >
              > >It's not the cost of energy.
              >
              >No, it's the cost of the system.
              >
              > >A nearly hundred percent efficient space
              > >elevator lifts about 2400 mt a day (on less than a GW)

              snip

              >I've invented a few things that are used worldwide and am still engaged in
              >practical science/engineering. I've worked close to guys who's inventions
              >have reduce world costs for producing oil by about 250 million/day.

              Since there are around 80 million barrels a day produced, that's a
              reduction of about 3%.

              >So, I
              >think I'm fairly familiar with processes that are economical and that work.
              >I have not seen anything in what you have written on this subject that gives
              >an indication of an understanding of the nature of practical solutions to
              >problems.

              What do you want? The current 747 cost about $300 million and dry
              masses out to about 185 mt or $1.6 million a ton. Produced in
              similar tonnage, do you see any reason these rockets would cost more
              than per ton than a 747? If so, why?

              First and second stage mass 619 tons, (third stage is mostly power
              sat parts) so if they cost on a par with a 747, they would cost just
              a hair over a billion each, with one coming off the production line
              every 20 days, or about 31 mt a day. That might sound like a lot,
              but I have worked in a locomotive factory that made 30 times that
              much a day in product (8-9 locomotives a day at 113 mt each). At
              peak production 747s were coming off the line at a slightly higher
              tonnage per year. If you use them for 200 flights the capital cost
              per flight is $5 million /200,000kg or $25/kg.

              This number is excessively rough, but could be refined without a lot
              of trouble. At a nickel a kWh, a kg of power sat generates $200 of
              electricity a year.

              > > Done with rockets of this sort
              > > http://www.ilr.tu-berlin.de/koelle/Neptun/NEP2015.pdf the energy
              > > input is about 15 times that high, or from $15 /kg down to $1.50 as
              > > you get less and less expensive energy.
              >
              >I went to this website, and it looked like a speculative conference.
              >Vaporware is easy to build. Doing something that works is hard. Most
              >things we wish we could do we do not know how to do.

              The .pdf was recommended as a good reference by Hu Davis of Eagle
              Engineering. Look him up.

              >I think that this is the absolutely fundamental difference you have with
              >folks who argue for nuclear reactors vs. space based solar power. We've
              >demonstrated
              >
              > >
              > >>safety mechanisms,
              > >
              > > Can you be specific about what you mean here?
              >
              >Sure, to be effective, power would have to be transmitted down in a fairly
              >dense fashion. One needs mechanisms that provide feedback to turn the power
              >off should the aim stray.

              The power level for power sats was set at about 1/4kW/square meter
              back in the 70s so it could not be used as a weapon. There was also
              concern that the ionosphere could go non-linear and short out the
              beam. As far as sending the beam down densely, it's an optical
              problem--see the math behind Airy's disk. If you want to get a
              tighter beam you have to go to a larger transmitter or higher
              frequency or both. The beam requires a pilot beam up from the center
              of the receiving array to stay phased. Otherwise it goes
              non-coherent, and the power scatters into a half space from the
              antenna. The power level, 5-10 GW, is set by the waste heat limits
              on the a km disk of transmitter klystrons.
              > >
              > > >Plus,
              > > >it costs money to build the actual arrays.
              > >
              > > That's true, but with just mild concentration you can get at least 10
              > > times more power out of a solar cell in space.
              >
              >We have an overwhelmingly fundamental difference here. I have looked at the
              >solar arrays for the space station and they are expensive.

              There is a presumption that if you are buying them at 300 GW/year,
              you get a price break. Plus you get a lot more energy over a year
              out in GEO. Much of this is discussed on the power satellite
              wikipedia page--which seems fairly up to date.

              >If concentration
              >were trivial in space, don't you think they would have used it?

              I don't know what the tradeoffs were. It may be that they can't keep
              it pointed well enough. With tens of square km of solar cells, you
              better be able to keep it pointed at the sun. In any case, it's not
              obvious to me that solar cells are even the way to go. In this
              range, steam turbines might be less expensive.

              >We know on
              >earth that techniques that use concentration have practical problems that
              >have prevented them from being cost effective.

              There sure are a lot of installed concentrators in thermal solar systems.

              > > >If you can find a way to drop
              > > >launch costs a factor of 100 to 500, then space based solar becomes a
              > > >player. There is nothing like that on the horizon.
              > >
              > > There doesn't seem to be any reason a really huge throughput
              > > transport system should not be able to give you that much
              > > reduction.
              >
              >Then, why hasn't it happened with the scores of airline industries? 747s
              >were brought online in the '60s....almost 40 years ago. 747s remain
              >competitive. The airline industry is huge, and we've only seen incremental
              >improvements over the past 40 years.

              A 747 is economical even at current fuel prices. Think about that
              every time you buy grapes grown in Chilli.

              The amount of energy used per kg isn't a lot different from lifting
              the same grapes to GEO.

              The main point is that there are very few options that are big enough
              and possibly low enough in cost to replace the bulk of fossil fuels.

              Keith

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            • Dan M
              ... For the rocket itself, not counting all the other expenses associated with launches, that s not an unreasonable cost. ... Here s where you throw in the
              Message 6 of 7 , Apr 17, 2008
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                > -----Original Message-----
                > From: brin-l-bounces@... [mailto:brin-l-bounces@...] On
                > Behalf Of hkhenson
                > Sent: Wednesday, April 16, 2008 8:10 PM
                > To: brin-l@...
                > Subject: An interesting response
                >
                > At 12:00 PM 4/16/2008, Dan M wrote:
                > >(Keith wrote)
                > > >
                > > > At 12:00 PM 4/11/2008, Dan M wrote:
                > > >
                > > > (Keith wrote)
                > > > > >Takes 10 200 ton payload
                > > > > > rockets each flying once a day to do it and with a blank check
                > > > > > perhaps under 5 years to work up to this production rate and 6-7
                > > > > > years from start to get to a $50 billion a year revenue stream
                > > > > > increasing at $25 billion a year.
                > > > >
                > > > >OK, let's do the math on that. At the present time, the cost of lift
                > to
                > > > >geosynchronous orbit is $20,000 per kg or $20M per metric ton. Ten
                > 200
                > > > ton
                > > > >payloads would be about 40 billion per day or 14.6 trillion per year.
                > > > >That's roughly the GDP of the US.
                > > >
                > > > And the analogy would be how impossible it is to build a dam sending
                > > > all the contents in Fed Ex envelopes.
                > > >
                > > > >The trick is, as it always has been, to lower launch costs.
                > > > Unfortunately,
                > > > >even in inflation adjusted dollars, launch costs haven't dropped much
                > > > over
                > > > >the past 40 years.
                > > >
                > > > I agree with you. The question is why?
                > >
                > >I wrote a blog on that general topic at the Scientific American website
                > >
                > >http://science-community.sciam.com/blog-entry/Dan-Ms-Blog/Unfortunate-
                > Promin
                > >ent-Misconception-Concerning-Tech/300004870
                >
                > It was an interesting blog, though *social problems* are in a very
                > different class than engineering ones like going to the moon. At
                > least they are now. Ask and I will point you to a dark story about
                > how they might be solved.
                >
                > >The essence is that when the engineering community starts working on
                > >something, it starts working on the obviously solvable problems first.
                > >Then, progress slows as the easy problems are solved and harder problems
                > are
                > >faced. The point at which this happens, and the manner in which it
                > happens
                > >is based on what is found. The speed of sound barrier is rather
                > >significant, and we have not found a way to develop efficient planes that
                > go
                > >at Mach 1.1 almost 60 years after we first went above Mach 1.
                > >
                > > >It's not the cost of energy.
                > >
                > >No, it's the cost of the system.
                > >
                > > >A nearly hundred percent efficient space
                > > >elevator lifts about 2400 mt a day (on less than a GW)
                >
                > snip
                >
                > >I've invented a few things that are used worldwide and am still engaged
                > in
                > >practical science/engineering. I've worked close to guys who's
                > inventions
                > >have reduce world costs for producing oil by about 250 million/day.
                >
                > Since there are around 80 million barrels a day produced, that's a
                > reduction of about 3%.
                >
                > >So, I
                > >think I'm fairly familiar with processes that are economical and that
                > work.
                > >I have not seen anything in what you have written on this subject that
                > gives
                > >an indication of an understanding of the nature of practical solutions to
                > >problems.
                >
                > What do you want? The current 747 cost about $300 million and dry
                > masses out to about 185 mt or $1.6 million a ton. Produced in
                > similar tonnage, do you see any reason these rockets would cost more
                > than per ton than a 747? If so, why?

                For the rocket itself, not counting all the other expenses associated with
                launches, that's not an unreasonable cost.


                > First and second stage mass 619 tons, (third stage is mostly power
                > sat parts) so if they cost on a par with a 747, they would cost just
                > a hair over a billion each, with one coming off the production line
                > every 20 days, or about 31 mt a day. That might sound like a lot,
                > but I have worked in a locomotive factory that made 30 times that
                > much a day in product (8-9 locomotives a day at 113 mt each). At
                > peak production 747s were coming off the line at a slightly higher
                > tonnage per year. If you use them for 200 flights the capital cost
                > per flight is $5 million /200,000kg or $25/kg.

                Here's where you throw in the unspecified assumption. A simple disposable
                rocket, like the ones being used by all launch facilities but the shuttle,
                could cost about what you said. But, then you talk about reusable rockets
                and assume that the initial capital cost is the critical factor.

                The fantasy of the space shuttle was that it could be reused easily. 10
                years into the mission, it was supposed to require a very small ground crew,
                getting lift costs to near earth orbit down to about $25/kg or some such
                number. But, the maintenance is very high and expensive. The shuttle costs
                a lot of money to fly, even though we are not buying new shuttles, the big
                fuel tank is the cheapest part of the assembly, and the solid fuel rockets
                are recoverable.

                So, I've seen no estimates for this, just the same arm waving I heard about
                the shuttle years ago. I can think of Russia, Japan, the EU, the US, and
                China all having significant lift capacity, and Russia is the cheapest
                available one I know of. I tend to look at actual costs and their trends as
                a guideline, not estimates that make unproven assumptions.


                I realize that I'm considered a nay-sayer because of this, but I would argue
                it's because I've had to design hardware/software systems that work remotely
                under harsh conditions. My contributions are modest, I have only a couple
                techniques used industry wide (with I hope one more being introduced soon),
                my own designs earn less than 200 million/year. But, I have been through
                the wars, having gone from, literally, a napkin sketch, to sending a string
                of tools that needed to withstand 20k psi pressure and 20 g rms vibration,
                out the door in 10 months....so I feel I know what it takes to do something
                brand new and make it work in hostile environments. I've also seen the
                company I work for through as much money as it gave to real projects to
                smoke and mirror artists who painted pretty pictures and produced nothing.


                >
                > The .pdf was recommended as a good reference by Hu Davis of Eagle
                > Engineering. Look him up.

                What has he built?


                >
                > A 747 is economical even at current fuel prices. Think about that
                > every time you buy grapes grown in Chilli.

                > The amount of energy used per kg isn't a lot different from lifting
                > the same grapes to GEO.

                > The main point is that there are very few options that are big enough
                > and possibly low enough in cost to replace the bulk of fossil fuels.

                It depends on what type of calculation one uses. If one uses hard
                engineering numbers for project X and arm waving unsubstantiated numbers for
                project Y, then project Y should win virtually every time. I can think of a
                number of different projects that are far more feasible for the 20-200 year
                time frame. After 200 years, I'd argue that fundamental discoveries will be
                sufficient to radically change what is practical.

                I don't have time now, but I'll put together, in the order I think is
                likely, possible solutions to energy sourcing which do not increase
                greenhouse gasses.


                Dan M.



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              • dsummersminet@comcast.net
                ... From: Doug Pensinger brighto@zo.com Date: Sun, 4 May 2008 11:10:57 -0800 To: brin-l@mccmedia.com Subject: Re: An interesting response ... I stand
                Message 7 of 7 , May 4, 2008
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                  Original Message:
                  -----------------
                  From: Doug Pensinger brighto@...
                  Date: Sun, 4 May 2008 11:10:57 -0800
                  To: brin-l@...
                  Subject: Re: An interesting response


                  Dan wrote:

                  >
                  >
                  > My argument is that we shouldn't think of green energy as merely a test of
                  > our will. It is also dependant on the lay of the land. Past behavior
                  > doesn't guarantee future behavior, but it's much more likely that, in 10
                  > years, we will have a 1 terabyte drive for $100 than have a plane that can
                  > carry 1500 passengers that flies for the same price (not price per
                  > passenger but total price) as a plane that carries 100.
                  >

                  >10 years? You can get one for $200 now: *http://tinyurl.com/62bmep

                  >The way prices for hard drives change, I doubt it will be much more than
                  >one.

                  I stand corrected. :-)

                  How about 10 Tbytes in 10 years for $100? I suppose that might seem
                  expensive in 10 years, unless there is a lot of inflation between now and
                  then and the minimum wage goes to $100/hour.

                  When I first looked at the price of disk space, in 1978, the HEP department
                  was paying $2.50 per week per Mbyte for its use of disk space.

                  So, it's fair to say that I've understated my point. :-)

                  Dan M.

                  Dan M.

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