Former president of India wants to beam energy from space

November 3, 2010 by Amara D. Angelica

On Thursday November 4 at the National Press Club the National Space Society (NSS) will reveal a plan for solving the global energy crisis — along with the carbon crisis and America’s jobs crisis: the Kalam-NSS Energy Initiative (Dr. A.P.J. Kalam is the former President of India). This is a visionary, ambitious plan for harvesting solar power in space and beaming it down to Earth, turning America and India into net energy exporters.

The event is timed to President Barack Obama’s meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh November 7th and 8th. The two are committed to joint research and development on energy issues.

The press conference will be streamed live at 9:30 AM Eastern and archived for six months.

Dr. T.K. Alex, Director of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Satellite Centre, Bangalore (the ISRO has launched 50 satellites into space) and leader of the Chandrayan-1 project that discovered water on the moon, and John Mankins, a 25-year NASA veteran considered the world’s leading authority on space solar power, will present the details of the technology at the press conference.

The NSS also plans a joint Indian-American conference on space solar power at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville, Alabama, May 18-22.

Dr. Kalam served as president from 2002-2007, and is revered for his scientific and engineering achievements, including fathering the rockets that have launched almost all of India’s 50 satellites into space. He was awarded America’s highest engineering prize, the Hoover Medal, for using space technology to bring state-of-the-art health care to ordinary Indian citizens, including the citizens of remote rural areas. Dr. Kalam is the author of ten books, including Igniting Minds: Unleashing the Power Within India, India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium, and Envisioning an Empowered Nation: Technology for Societal Transformation. In his book India 2020, he advocates turning India into a knowledge superpower.

According to Kalam, “By 2050, even if we use every available energy resource we have: clean and dirty, conventional and alternative, solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear, coal, oil, and gas, the world will fall short of the energy we need. There is an answer: a power source that produces no carbon emissions … that can reach to most distant villages of the world, and can turn both countries into net energy and technology exporters.

“I am convinced that harvesting solar power in space can bring India and United States of America together in whole new ways. And I am certain that harvesting solar power in space can upgrade the living standard of the human race.”

The need for such an initiative is clear. World electricity demand by the year 2035 is projected to increase by 87%, but renewable power generation systems (water, wind, solar, geothermal, etc.) will only meet 23% of that demand, according to the NSS. Space solar power will provide true energy independence for the nations that develop it, eliminating a major source of national competition for limited Earth-based energy resources.

Artist's impression of a rectenna, which converts beamed microwave energy from space into electrical power for distribution ©Mafic Studios

Sky’s no limit: Space-based Solar Power, the next major step in the Indo-US Strategic Partnership,” by U.S. Air Force futurist and NSS board of directors member Peter A. Garretson, recently published by India’s Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), lays out the case for the initiative. It represents 16 months of in-country research to examine the possibilities of Indo-US cooperation in space and renewable energy.

The paper examines the relevance of space-based solar power in the context of the Indo-US strategic partnership. After providing an overview of the concept and its significance to the compelling problems of sustainable growth, economic development, energy security and climate change, it evaluates the utility of the concept in the context of respective Indian and US political context and long-term energy-climate trajectories.

The paper examines multiple models of potential cooperation, and concludes that a bilateral initiative to develop space-based solar power is highly consistent with the objectives of the Indo-US strategic partnership, and  recommends an actionable three-tiered program to realize its potential.

Top image: Artist’s impression of space solar power antenna in orbit ©Mafic Studios

Full disclosure: I am a member of the board of directors of NSS – Amara D. Angelica