back to article Pentagon in orbital solar power plan for world peace

Everyone knows that the US military is massively involved in American energy supplies. The deal is often said to be one of swapping blood for oil, though if it's just American blood we're on about the exchange rate is pretty good. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that - overall - America swaps assorted explosives for oil …


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  1. zen

    Horrifically bad idea

    Does anyone realize what a horrifically bad idea this is? Global warming would be petty ante compared to the bringing in of energy to the ecosystem. How would adding additional power to the system help? I suppose we could build an orbiting cooling plant too.

    This also bring up another of my pet peeves, wind farms. I suppose we could build more wind farms to create electricity. But what does taking power from / distrubing the wind patterns really do? Could that cause a drought somewhere else, or maybe just slightly shift the wind patterns to move and change the local climates?

    Just a thought....

  2. Chad H.

    Solar Powerplant in SPACE?!?!?!

    Did noone at the pentagon ever play simcity 2000?!? Is noone planning for the eventual disaster, a Microwave scar across an entire city?

  3. anthony bingham

    Dig don't Fly ...

    we got all the Big Heat we need in the guts of this planet we rush around; so why not sub-surface [safer from nasty chaps] Water Boilers that circulate the "pressure water" through the ... VERY HOT... zone and so to the tubines and all that well tried and tested Technology. I think the guys at the Pent. might have an agenda rather less than sweet!

  4. TLA

    Nuclear power != Nuclear bomb

    Nuclear power is ready, when will governments tell the unlearned masses to shut up and listen to thoes who know what they are talking about.

    No blood for oil + no climate impact.

    1 tonne of Nuclear waste <<< billions of tonnes of carbon*

    It's not perfect, but why go to the trouble of sending up hundreds of rockets (where's the fuel coming from?) when we can do this *now*

    * "<<<" = "is much less dangerous, in all respects, than"

  5. Joe K
    Thumb Up


    So for a tiny fraction of the trillions wasted on war and its weapons, we could have got ourselves a nice orbital powerstation?

    A tad optimistic maybe, humans will always find a reason to fight, but still gets you thinking. It'd pretty much end climate change worries too, at least fossil fuel ones from the hundreds of coal fired powerstations going online in Asia every month.

    It'd NEVER happen with the current government, who like their oil power very much indeed. Could be a real votewinner for the opposition though.

  6. Brett Brennan

    Back in 1977...

    ...I did a paper for an engineering power class on the feasibility of solar space power systems. I interviewed the primary NASA engineering team, working at that time at the Lewis center in Cleveland, Ohio, and have (somewhere) the original source documents provided to me,

    If I recall properly, the intent was to orbit a couple of megawatts in an array that would use direct thermal conversion to microwave of solar radiation, beamed to the receiving array rectenna on the ground. Overall efficiency was projected to be in the 90%+ range, and the mission would be done using the (then new) space shuttle fleet. For some reason 13 flights were the number of missions required to deploy the demonstration facility. The cost was projected (and this was back when salt grains were a bit smaller than today) at a price comparable to building a nuclear plant of similar capacity.

    So the plans for such a facility have been sitting on NASA's shelves for 30 years. Unfortunately, neither new research or the cost reductions originally projected have occurred. Still, the solution is elegant and could easily solve the intermediate power issues that other "green" proposals (wind, solar, tidal, etc.) are positioned to address.

    The other issue, microwave power density, was also addressed. I'd have to find the documents (I believe they're out in our archive facility in the Mohave desert), but the idea was that the power density was, while higher than nominal exposure, was sufficiently low per square meter to allow non-habitation use of the land under the array (i.e., farming or some other similar use, with tinfoil hats for the few workers that needed to be under the grid). Even a steering error that projected the beam over a populated area would not prove a serious problem: normal house materials would attenuate the beam further, and exposure would be minimal. So they claimed.

    Anyway, my nickel's worth. I hope it goes forward in my lifetime.

  7. Daniel

    Predictions of disaster

    It always cheers me up to see people predicting disaster without ANY understanding of the underlying issues. Please, continue, post haste!

    *cough* Ok, now that that's out of my system, on to more serious refutation. First off, global warming is NOT about the amount of heat we are generating by our energy usage. It is about the amount of solar energy we are trapping via greenhouse gases released from burning fuels for energy usage. The differences in total heat involved is orders of magnitude apart; and a space based solar array system would only be sending down ~5x the energy an equivalently sized ground system would produce. In addition, we simply wouldn't build a system larger than we needed; the cost is prohibitive. Thus, the issue raised by "zen" is not only a non-issue, it's actually obscuring the fact that as this would be "non-polluting," it would reduce global warming.

    As far as the comment by "Chad H.," I suspect many played Sim City, but unlike yourself, are smart enough to realize that it is a GAME, and this is REALITY. The beam can not be used as a weapon in the way you describe, it would require the ability to "focus" it to an insane degree. From the article: "The distance from the geostationary belt is so vast that beams diverge beyond the coherence and power concentration useful for a weapon."

    So please, focus on REAL concerns if you want to shoot this idea down. However, keep the fear mongering out of it.l


  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Eeeeh it's like the 1970s all over again

    Those of us old enough to remember the Skylab era of space travel will also remember the beautiful paintings NASA produced showing the future of (freedom loving) space travel...

    Isle of Wight-sized solar power stations were a staple feature alongside space stations good knows how many kilometres across sitting at the Lagrange Points, lunar bases mining the regolith for rare alloys and (best of all to a small boy) electromagnetic cannons hurling all that booty back to Earth.

    If you can find the July 1976 issue of National Geographic you'll see most of these paintings alongside a feature written by Isaac Asimov about how wonderful life would be in the early 21st Century. So off the mark it makes 'Tomorrow's World' look like the Oracle of Delphi.

    Mind you, part of me is still disappointed that Gerry Anderson's view of the future never happened - the World needs more incredibly fragile but incredibly cool technology. Electromagnetic cannons on the Sea of Tranquillity? yep works for me!

  9. Jon Tocker

    Where do we sign up

    SBSP has been one of my favourite ideas for solving the energy issues ever since I read about it in Jerry Pournelle's "One Step Further Out" (OK, it'd seen it vaguely mooted before but Mr Pournelle's assessment went into the logistics somewhat better than "we could bung something up in space and get the power to Earth somehow").

    I'm all for it. And I'm also for using geothermal power sources as well.

    Wind farms are hideously ugly and I agree with zen's point about the impact wind farms are likely to have on our ecology - same argument applies to tidal power generation, too. Quite familiar (living as I do in The Waikato Region of New Zealand's North Island) with the impact that both hydroelectric and coal power have on the environment.

    The really good thing about SBSP is the spin-off technology. The space program has so far had an enormous spin-off effect on technology and our way of life. Gearing to a renewable/sustainable space program with reusable lifting bodies etc etc and the logistics of building and maintaining geostationary power stations are going to create even more spin-off technologies.

  10. Dillon Pyron

    And the past shall be the future

    Gerald O'Neil, "The High Frontier". It answers many of the criticisms posted here and elsewhere. The microwave farms would be huge. And if the beam drifted off course, the system would either correct or shut down.

    Of course, for him this was the prime reason for building habitats in space. But we've become such cowards that this will never happen and we'll die in place.

  11. lglethal Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    @ anthony bingham

    At present the idea of creating underground thermal reactors based on the heat from the Earth's core is a no goer because it is usually not possible to dig down deep enough to raise temperatures more then 10-20 degrees. For a thermal reactor to work you need much higher temperatures.

    (And at present it has yet to be possible to drill down far enough to penetrate more then 50% of the planets crust.)

    At present all thermal reactors are based around hot springs and the like for the simple reason that these places bring the heat to the surface already. The only real option for creating usable underground thermal reactors would be to build them close to volcanic regions or on fault lines where magma/lava are relatively close to the surface. Quite obviously this provides structural dangers of its own (eruption/earthquakes, etc.).

    Whilst the energy produced would be clean, and if said eruption/earthquake should occur, the threat to the surface would be minimal and less than that caused by the eruption/earthquake itself (unlike with nuclear power stations as seen after the recent earthquakes in japan). The danger to the lives of the power plant workers though would be unacceptably high (for western nations). So i cant see this technology working in the west, sorry. It could flourish in a place like China where workplace safety is unimportant but then they rarely lead the way in such technologies...

  12. Robert Fleming


    > if it's just American blood we're on about the exchange rate is pretty good

    Tasteless even for The Register.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    The entire Pacific rim

    is a fault line I personally have lived right over a fault I didn't die there were lots of earthquakes basically the reason we can't have extensive geothermal use is it costs money to develop and no one is willing to spend it.

  14. Eugene Goodrich

    Windmill farms and American blood and fault lines

    I've only visited one windmill farm, but to me it's gorgeous, quiet, and awe-inspiring. I accept that tastes among us vary. (e.g. Some people seem to think babies thumping silverware at the next table during breakfast isn't annoying in the slightest.)

    As for disturbing wind patterns and such: I agree that if we humans all just lay down and die, or did activities that were supported only by whatever natural resources came along right in front of us and presented themselves, the planet would be much more like it would if we weren't here, and that would suit a lot of non-people denizens pretty well. But we're here, we have an impact, and the planet needs to get used to it. Meanwhile it makes sense that we try to minimize the badness of our impact, such as perhaps replacing coal power plants with windmills.


    I think the Register's including of the words "if it's just American blood" means that the number of Americans killed or wounded, or even all military and support troops killed or wounded, is not all that huge a number given the character and duration of conflict at hand. And most noticeably, it is hugely smaller than the number of Iraqi civilians killed or wounded.


    Inductive reasoning: I live over a fault line; I haven't died yet from it; it's safe.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Anyone else see an alternative use for this?

    Forget those namby pamby 'crowd control' humvee mounted microwave rayguns, get your tasty 'crowd vapouriser' right here ;)

  16. John

    good idea

    Nice to see that there is some sensible thinking down one corridor of the pentagon, but as they say, they will need "a cooperative international regime", which I'm guessing they'll be outsourcing to the rest of the building.

  17. Dave


    Sounds cool. I always wished I could have worked on the Apollo program. This sounds like it could be just as exciting. Where do I sign up for a job to help build it?

  18. Anonymous Coward

    comes bundled with FREE Dom*

    *Licensing requirements for FREE Dom...

    Do as we say.

    err...that's it

    If you do not wish to use the FREE Dom supplied, you cannot use PentaPower

  19. Tim Croydon


    In this context I can't help thinking of Cartman's anal probe in South Park.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    Reminds me...

    There was this incredibly bad movie, James Bond something. Well, the good thing is we won't have to fire up the barbecue...


  21. Anonymous Coward

    High power microwave beams

    would ionize the atmosphere which would allow space radiation to reach the Earth's surface unstopped. This is bad for most lifeforms, the process wastes lots of energy and even increases the tempreture of air around the beam, generating storms. Imho this device could only be used as a weapon. It's effects are on the same scale with nukes.

  22. Anonymous Coward


    "But it's nice to see this general sort of thinking all the same."

    did you mean thinking in this area, or that a particular Pentagon guy is sort of thinking?

  23. Geoff Mackenzie

    Whoops, I missed...

    ...fortunately, I hit an opponent of the US!

    Is anyone else thinking what I'm thinking? Just a couple of months ago they were strapping one to a vehicle to use for crowd control, now they want to put one in space. Solar power is just a coincidence - the handiest way to power your microwave cannon.

    And how is one US-owned solar power plant supposed to foster world peace anyway? That's like saying the present Russian domination of energy supplies fosters world peace.

  24. Steve

    No calculations... but

    I haven't done any calculations, but I'm finding it difficult to reconcile the idea that a beam carrying megawatts of power is so attenuated that you can stand around it with no ill effect.

    If it's that attenuated then the receiving station is going to need to be the size of a city and any advantage this technique had has been lost entirely.

    Maybe someone can be arsed to put together the figures. How about comparing the normal intensity of noon day sun somewhere with a temperate climate with the intensity of a megawatt beam spread over a few different guestimate areas. (Say 100 sqr metres, 1000 sqr metres, 100000 sqr metres).

  25. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    I actually have a reason to doubt this scheme

    It takes a 767-ton Ariane V to place 80 tons into orbit. The Ariane V is a two-stage rocket, with additional solid boosters for extra oomph.

    A two-rocketplane deal with comparable performance would mean a transport vehicle capable of getting an 80-ton mass into orbit, with a piggyback vehicle tasked with getting the whole thing off the ground and up to where the transport can get going.

    Fine. The only reusable space vehicle in existence at this time is the Shuttle. The Shuttle can get 22 tons into orbit (on the back of a rocket, of course). It has a mass of about 100 tons. The rocket needed to put the Shuttle into orbit has a total mass (fuel included) of about 2000 tons.

    So forget the 80 tons, on a rocketplane deal I seriously doubt we'd be able to get 2000 tons flying in the first place. The Shuttle has already been mounted (empty) on the back of a 747, so transporting 100 tons is possible.

    Therefor, it would seem that we could make a launcher vehicle to get a Shuttle-type craft up to where it can "take off" for space.

    The launcher vehicle would need to carry a payload of 120 tons to very high altitude (at least 20km probably). Then, the new transporter would have to be able to boost itself up to orbital altitude - another 270km.

    As of now, the rocket that carries the Shuttle into space drops it off once the momentum is sufficient to throw it up to its orbital altitude - a maximum of 400km - just enough to reach the ISS. In other words, the Shuttle itself is entirely incapable of ascending 270km on its own. Which means the transport vehicle will have to be seriously more powerful than the Shuttle is - and that will certainly have a negative impact on payload capacities - or the launcher vehicle will have to be able to carry the whole shebang way higher than 20km - preferably to an altitude of 100 or even 150km.

    In this scenario, we need a transport vehicle powerful enough to climb at least 250km while carrying 20 tons of payload. We also need a launcher vehicle capable of climbing to 150km whilst carrying the transport vehicle, its payload and the fuel for all that. On top of that, the launcher vehicle will need jet engines to get up to 20km, statoreactors for up to 100, and pure rocketery for anything above that. Three types of engines, then.

    I fail to see how anything can get off the ground with all those requirements. The largest, most massive plane ever built is reportedly the Antonov-255, and it weighs in at 600 tons. I doubt it can go higher than 20km though.

  26. Jon Tocker

    Needless worry...

    Looking at some of the paranoid "the US would use it as a weapon since they would have total domination of space " posts, I don't think the posters have to worry - they've probably already got the all the protection they need in the form of their tinfoil hats.

    OK, I know it was 2 pages long which is probably a test of the attention span of the average conspeercy theorist but did the bits about global co-operation (you know, that thing that built the ISS), attenuation and diffuseness of the beam over GEOsynch distances etc somehow manage to fall into the hollow space between their ears?

    Frankly, I think wind farms, hydroelectric dams and large coal-fired power plants look frigging ugly and the hydro dams and wind farms take up shitloads of space that could be better used for other purposes. Wind power and tidal power are not reliable and have to have some means of backup for when they are not at peak output.

    A power station or 5 outside the atmosphere would solve a lot of problems and the reusable rocket technology required to build it would probably drop the cost of space travel to the point that "space tourism" (hell, that'd be a power station I'd be interested in visiting) to LEO and GEO might be affordable.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    itll never happen


    energy == power == money

    and those who have these things generally dont want to share it

  28. Anonymous Coward


    LOL .. please factor in clean up costs. Cradle to grave analysis is always better than back of a fag packet analysis, which you seem to specialise in.

    At the moment the world burns coal, I know the EU goes a bundle on gas, but theres less of that around than there is oil. Its ultimately unsustainable. Theres 100,000's of years of coal, we even have large amounts in this country (shock horror, maybe if Maggy didn't shit on the miners we wouldn't have to be dependent on Russian gas .. oh the irony, you kill one red just to get into bed with another. These socialists get everywhere don't they.)

    Carbon sequestration is needed now, a decent design for a coal powered station with on site carbon sequestration is the real sweet spot for saving the planet. The Chinese were bringing a new coal fired power station online every month.

    I know you don't have any deep knowledge of power generation, you have never participated in any analysis of power generation or looked in any detail of the available alternatives.

    So why the f**k do you feel you know the answers ?

    As for nuclear power != a nuclear bomb ... the only difference is the purity of the fissile material, its should be obvious that a controlled reaction is more difficult to achieve than an uncontrolled reaction.

    As I've said before, a knowledge of ASP does not give you any insight into Science. But that does not stop your average tech geek from spouting off based on a quick wiki fiddle and their favourite blog author, who is normally another tech geek with a knowledge of ASP. Talk about echo chamber reinforcement.


    Your just an idiot, in future I would keep it to yourself

    To give you a hint along these lines, how much energy do you think that a wind turbine bleeds from the wind which is created by varying atmospheric pressure over large areas ? Are you suggesting we need to worry about this at all ?

    Maybe we should be streamlining the landscape so that the wind doesn't have any resistance to it. My God, if this carries on the wind will run out of steam before it reaches us, we surely would run out of air, because its the wind thats letting us breathe, innit ?

    "Just a thought" ? ... it would be nice if you did !

    As for this space based microwave, its not going to solve anything today, its pie in the sky and basically is a vehicle for encouraging space exploration. Fine, but lets not kid ourselves it can help solve the energy crisis. It can't. Nor will a comprehensive knowledge of C++, but that hasn't stopped anyone yet.

  29. Mike

    The Eagle new it all

    Forget SimCity the Pentagon should be forced to sit down and read the 1980s edition of the Eagle comic.

    I can't remember the name but there was a storyline where a brand new orbital powerstation was turned on and the moment the power beam reached the ground it effected the atmosphere and rendered it impossible to generate electricity. After many months of apocaliptic warrior stuff, involving steam trains and diesel powered Chieftan tanks in and around the tower of london, it was only the timely arrival a comet that destroyed the orbital station that saved civilisation..... actually sounds like it could be fun turn it on!

  30. Stu
    Thumb Up

    Great idea!!!

    I think this is excellent.

    Heres some of the pessimism points explored -

    Chances are China could share from and benefit from the designs (if made public) that the yanks come up with, and help to put their own SBSP system into space, and the UK might create its own SBSP too.

    If it were made public, and was totally neutral and standardised (so energy sharing is possible), what possible reason would China have to blow it out of orbit (other than a prelude to invasion)?

    Other benefits are apparent - in events such as natural disasters, it might be prudent for nations to share their SBSP generated energy directly to such nations 'base stations', to help perhaps, third world countries, which would improve international relations no end.

    Also given that today energy is brought in from other countries, and sent out to other countries all the time now, such a redirection of the 'SBSP beams' could be done directly from the source.

    Also, the problem of launching them into space might be mitigated given the proportionately smaller energy requirements that the likes of Bert Rutans SpaceShip one developments (given they go mostly straight up and straight back down) could perhaps be utilised (I'm no scientist but it sounds good!).

    Especially if you could send it up in small modular panels creating a kind of network that could keep being added to for generations, eventually replacing fossil fuels entirely.

    Old, non functional modules would be ejected from the network over time, and new ones introduced by the same method, helping maintain the network.

    Right General, I want the first few modules in space by tomorrow lunchtime! ;-)

  31. H'arj Imladd

    Wrong technology again

    Although such thinking has to be useful in publicising the necessity of weaning us all off fossil fuels, yet again we seem to be looking at the wrong technology.

    Fusion via inertial electrostatic driven devices anyone?..... read this summary paper:

    Anyone want to join me in a whip round for the 200 mil required?! Joking aside, I'd fund it if i knew how to construct the commercial proposition.

    Apparently the key workers on the project plus the patent knowledge now reside within the same company that made the rubber/nitrous oxide rocket engines for the Spaceship One program. One would hope that signifies both intent and capability.

    Lets hope they can make it work and we can all raise a glass to the fantastic work of Bussard, Farnsworth, Hirsch et al !


  32. Senor Beavis

    We'd have got there sooner...

    ...if James Bond and his pesky, plucky associates didn't keep killing off the space-bound nutter scientists, who had invested their huge personal fortunes in to making their evil dreams reality. Sure, we'd have to contend with the odd act of global terrorism, but look at what we could have won.

  33. Misha Gale

    @zen, re: Wind Farms

    I'm not sure I follow your logic there mate. Yes, wind tubines affect the course of winds and extract energy from them, but surely so do trees, buildings rocks and in fact any solid object? Is there some physics/meteorology I don't get here?

  34. Mikey

    Non-Ionising Radiation

    @ The bloke who seems to think microwaves ionise the atmosphere...

    Wrong :O)

    Mobile phone masts use radio waves in the microwave band, and so far, I havent had any adverse reactions to space-borne radiation for along time. The nice big signs on the transmitters clearly state 'Non-Ionising Radiation Hazard' (Because putting your face in front of an antenna would still be a stupid thing to do).

    So microwaves wouldnt allow any extra cosmic radiation to enter the atmos, and we should still be relatively safe. Unless you take a holiday under the beam, of course.

    Have a looksee for yourself...

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ionisation, diffusion

    Ionise the air? By what mechanism? It might warm it up a bit, but if you select your wavelength right it's not very attenuated.

    If the rectenna is a km on a side, that's 10^6 m^2. so 1 Wm^-2 per Megawatt of beam power, or 10ths of a milliwat per square cm. So a *Terawatt* beam would be generating 10ths of a Watt per cm^-2.

    Mind you "A few" several-Megawatt solar farms in orbit won't even make a tiny weeny dent in the energy needs of the globe.

  36. Luther Blissett

    Double think

    As Pascal Monett has pointed out, the logistics and costs are humongous. Once this "power station" is up there, how is this asset to be defended? The cost of hunter-killer satellite is likely to be peanuts compared to this thing, not to forget the PRC's recent demonstration of spotlighting an orbiting US satellite. So what is this kite about?

    It was recently announcement that the US military have an anti-personnel weapons system which radiates microwaves at the precise frequency to cause intense pain in the human nervous system. Now along comes a weapons platform for deploying it and making it available everywhere, any time. and with no need to smuggle bodies back into the US at dead of night, or to make photographing that illegal, or to count as Iraq fatalities only those soldiers who died on Iraqi soil and not those who died in the air ambulance helicopters or the field hospitals or in US bases not in Iraq.

    What better way of ensuring a "rogue" nation's compliance with US policy than making torture so completely "democratic". It will, of course, be equally effective against its own citizens.

  37. Geoff Mackenzie

    ... Tinfoil hat removed ...

    @John Tocker - fair enough points, I have to admit I read the article a little too fast. Still, I'm more in favour of the alternatives;

    > Frankly, I think wind farms, hydroelectric dams and large coal-fired power plants look frigging ugly

    Yes, but is it really worth spending all the extra money on an orbiting power station just because you (and admittedly many others) object on aesthetic grounds?

    > and the hydro dams and wind farms take up shitloads of space that could be better used for other purposes

    Not sure what you mean by other purposes here. We're short of a lot of things on Earth but space isn't really one of them.

    > Wind power and tidal power are not reliable and have to have some means of backup for when they are not at peak output.

    Such as wind and tidal plants at other locations. Geothermal energy is pretty reliable where it can be had; maybe worth a bit of research?

    > rocket technology required to build it would probably drop the cost of space travel to the point that "space tourism" (hell, that'd be a power station I'd be interested in visiting) to LEO and GEO might be affordable.

    Pollution anyone?

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    I can see it now...

    ...the little birdy flying along, happy as anything. It spies a shimmer in the air and its little birdy brain thinks "Updraft". It flies into that area where the energy is being beamed down from space....


    Of course, no one will do anything until some idiot in an airplane strays off course...


  39. Brett Leach

    Expected rectenna array sizes are expected to be in the square km range.

    But compare that to the size of solar arrays necessary to provide the same level of power, and generate excess capacity to be stored for nighttime, foul weather, and changing seasonal influx levels.

    About 3 to 4 times the physical size plus massive storage facilities. And the whole lot is as toxic as Hell itself. Either during fabrication or inherently as with most battery technology.

    The simplest rectenna element is a piece of bent wire and a fast diode rectifier. More complex ones with multiple elements and a backplane can achieve efficiencies as great as 90% with a receiver cost of just a handful of dollars per square meter.

    Solar cells are expensive as hell. It makes sense to place them where the maximum wattage can be squeezed out of them. If it's affordable to do so.

    And the effect microwaves have on the materials, items, critters and people in their way are very very dependent on the chosen wavelength. For fairly obvious reasons the first limiting factor is that for the purpose of power transmission the beam be as minimally affected as possible by the Earth's atmosphere. Thus it's affect on the atmosphere is equally minimal. One major element in the atmosphere, is water thus one frequency that certainly won't be chosen is the one used in microwave ovens. So strangely enough it's not going to speed cook any people or birds that manage to get in the way of a beam. At worst it would amount to a slight warming effect as some lesser element or compound in the body does adsorb a small proportion of any beam.

    As for total waste heat input into the Earth's biosphere, it would be no different to today. That energy is generated and turned into useless heat regardless of it's source. Fossil energy sequestered in fossil fuels is the least of our problems. It's the greenhouse gases which modify the Earth's atmosphere to trap solar energy all over the many millions of square kilometers that face the sun every single second. The few terawatts we dirrectly add to the environment with our activities are nothing against the hundreds of terawatts (petawatts?) we're now adding indirectly through globlal warming.

    And perhaps, one day as we get the hang of this strange idea of cooperation we can think about retuning a few transmitters to react with water, not to harm, but to tinker with the weather to redirect or sap the strength of dangerous storms and to create and/or steer beneficial rains over crops and catchment zones.

    With abundant and sufficiently cheap energy virtually anything becomes possible. Even if we limit ourselves to the physical resources of Earth, magnetic separation of ionised sea salt could provide almost any rare element we could ever need. It's woefully inefficient but if the energy is cheap enough the rest is very basic engineering. Bucket particle physics.

    My fear is not that launch system limitations will prove too expensive, but that they will become cheap too quickly for us to learn the lesson of cooperation properly if at all.

    I once saw an article quite a few years ago that spoke of a microwave beam climbing launch vehicle. The basic idea was to focus part of the beam with a parabolic reflector to create a shockwave in the air ahead of the vehicle and creating a partial vacuum in front of the craft. The remainder of the beam was rectified and used to power a ring current around the perimeter of the craft which accelerated heat ionised air past the craft to create forward thrust. Rather ironically the shape of craft was two shallow bowls face to face, with a parabolic bowl inset into the upper surface. Claims were made in the article that the concept worked in wind tunnel tests. If it scales up and ever works in the real world launch costs would plummet to the point where virtually anyone could establish an orbital presence.

    A recent development of solar cells which can be printed onto a substrate strike me as making the idea of SBSP even more attractive as solar cells can be rolled onto spools in thousand metre lengths and unwound onto gossamer frames in orbit. My guess is between and acre and a hectare of 12-14% efficient solar cells per ton mass.

    It really is starting to look like it is doable, and may well be done soon. Leave it to the military alone and problems will ensue. If it happens, it must be with full international cooperation.

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