Space Cynics Shubber Ali, Tom Olson (Tom’s Rants), Dr. John Jurist (Old Space Cadet) and Dr. David Livingston (Professor L) engaged in a roundtable conference call Saturday morning, Oct. 25, 2008 to discuss space solar power.  In keeping with true Space Cynics fashion, this was a hard-hitting discussion addressing some of the fundamental challenges facing SSP and why the Cynics do not share the joy of seeing a future SSP world as do those promoting it.  As we started the discussion, Shubber outlined three basic areas that we addressed: technical challenges, economic and political (policy) challenges, and those challenges represented by substitute technology.  All of us were in agreement that the technical challenges can be met over time and with sufficient funding and R&D.  All the Cynics believe that substitute technologies here on Earth will typically give the economic and policy advantage to terrestrial power over SSP. Furthermore, the economic, political, and policy challenges ahead for SSP are formidable and likely to be much harder, complex, and costly to resolve than many of those promoting SSP believe will be the case.  


Since many listening to this discussion will not agree with some or even all of the points made, should you choose to reply, comment, or question what you hear, please do so factually.  For example, if you are going to report or comment that the launch cost will be $200/kilo to GEO or some other very low rate, tell us how that happens so we can respond factually.  If you are talking theoretical, please provide the support and basis for your theory.  If you are expressing your opinion, fine, please do so, but remember that opinions are not fact or reality.  By the way, this rule applies to the opinions of the Cynics as well.  Another interesting point offered in this discussion came up when we talked about the need for low cost space access.  Shubber made the point that the military does not really want cheap and easy access to space by the general public, thus it’s unlikely that there will be any government action taken to significantly change the way we access space.  


For some of you, you may believe or even tell us that we are not helping the “SSP movement.”  All of us have heard this before.  So be it, but please tell us why our goal should to be to help any movement.  Either individually or collectively as the Space Cynics, we discuss, report, and post on what we read, see, understand, and want to express.  We are not posting to serve a movement of any kind.  We are not obligated to serve any movement.  We are obligated to study and understand an issue and report or discuss it as we see it and understand it.  If some of you have ruffled feathers over that, please show us where our analysis or conclusions are wrong.  We welcome such input and open discussion right here on the Space Cynics blog.  Please see for a more comprehensive description of this program.





  1. Again, how could you completely miss the the obvious first application of SSP, that is not beaming the power to earth, but to other bodies in the solar system, where you might have rovers, long-life laboratories or, heavens forbid, a manned base.

  2. Reader, I assume you are attempting to be funny, right?

    You don’t seriously suggest that the first application is beaming power to non-existent long-life labs, manned bases, or any such thing, do you?

    If you really believe that those are the initial customers for such a system, then we are in agreement in one respect – it will be a LONG LONG time before SBSP every happens (if ever), because it will be a LONG LONG time before we have those customers established (if at all during our lifetimes).

  3. I know Shubber is an avowed skeptic on the subject of settlement on the moon, Mars, or elsewhere. And I would agree that it’s going to be a LONG time before we see any. But I still maintain that, in theory, a small-scale SBSP unit would be a great way to “jump-start” a 24/7 power grid infrastructure on a place like Mars, where nothing exists currently. If we’re talking a small group of 100 or less, the entire system could be delivered in 2 heavy-lift launches. I actually mentioned this on the show, so it would seem to me that “reader” hasn’t actually listened to it. And while OldspaceCadet mentioned the light attenuation at Mars, that hasn’t stopped Spirit and Opportunity from rolling along just fine going on 5 years, now.

    But my point in all that was this was the only “justifiable” purpose in developing SBSP at all – small systems, delivering power where no grid or alternatives exist. And you’d still have to do a lot of arguing even for that.

  4. Solar intensity at Mars orbit is very roughly half of what it is at Earth orbit. To collect the same energy, collector area would have to be doubled.

    A solar system in Mars orbit beaming down to a rover on the surface would be significantly more difficult to achieve than simply putting solar panels on the rover. Of course, one needs to store energy for night-time use, dust off the panels, etc.

    Beaming power to Mars from solar power sats orbiting the Earth is even less practical.

    Potentially competing technologies include on site solar collectors of various types, batteries (including rechargeables), radioisotope thermoelectric generators, nuclear reactors and various thermal cycles, fuel cells, generators powered by burning assorted fuels, human powered generators, etc. The list is long, but it can be shortened if a specific application or mission is considered.

  5. ::You don’t seriously suggest that the first application is beaming power to non-existent long-life labs, manned bases, or any such thing, do you?

    Again, Phoenix Lander sits on Mars right now, and basically the only reason why its a short-life lab is that there is nothing to illuminate its solar panels once in a while during the martian winter.

  6. Yes you are correct in asserting the launch/payload/cost ratio at present for such deployment as space based solar energy. There is though a bonfide need and legitmate reason I believe to be forward thinking in this regard. There is an interesting video here championing space based solar power as well:

    However that being said, there are several potential theoretically possible future technologies that would very significantlly lower the cost of delivering space based payloads. Then, and only then, will the ability become a reality for space based solar power

  7. Jeff, would you please list the theoretical and future technologies you are thinking about and if you have a website URL or some way for us to check them out and learn about them, please include that information. Many thanks.

  8. Not beamed to a rover, John, that would be silly – but to a stationary settlement, as a way of “jump starting” it. Even at 50% attenuation, compared with earth, it’s 24/7 and doesn’t require a robot to knock the dust off. It would get them started until other sources could be up and running. Politically, it would be a better sell than shipping a Rickover.

  9. Um, but we are so far from a Mars base that you’re guilty of the same useless speculation that the alt.spacers often get into, which IMHO is about as pointless as arguing the aesthetics of warp drive reactor control panel interface designs…. when we don’t have warp drive.

  10. Shubber…you too have commented in other forums that you are a believer in space solar power…just not for another 50 years. I’m thinking the same is true for Mars bases of 50-100 people. How about a little benefit of the doubt, here? What I was getting at is such an unlikely scenario is about the ONLY justification to be had for developing an SBSP system at all…even a small one. And not used on Earth.

  11. Ahh, Tom – see, you weren’t being clear. If you are saying that there is no justification here on Earth for SBSP and that the only “reason” (as weak as it is) would be to support some future base on Mars, well then I agree with you. It’s a pretty weak justification. 🙂

    We call that damning with faint praise.

  12. Shubber, I never claimed the justification was “strong”. But hey, if you’re an SBSP proponent, and you’re gonna clutch at straws, those are the ones to clutch.

  13. Tom, what you are saying, if you stitch together the comments in a logical sequence, is that there is no strong justification for SBSP, and the best one is a weak one that has to do with beaming power to a Mars base.

    That tapping sound is nails in the coffin, not fireworks.

  14. Solar system has only one sun and the sun gives solar heat and it is fit to use this, sunpowerportcom. It lessen the threats of global warming. 😀

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