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Guest: Dr. John Mankins; Topics: Space Solar Power, the new NASA Office of Technology, Policy, and Strategy "Space-Based Solar Power" report, nuclear alternatives, terrestrial solar vs. SSP, SSP economics, SSP and the military and more.
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We welcomed Dr. John Mankins back to the program to discuss space solar power prospects in light of the new NASA Office of Technology, Policy, and Strategy "Space-Based Solar Power" report. You can download the report here, www.nasa.gov/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/otps-sbsp-report-final-tagged-approved-1-8-24-tagged-v2.pdf?emrc=744da1. In addition, you can find many good articles that examine the NASA report with objectivity. Check out the SpaceNews report by Dr. Jeff Foust, "NASA report offers pessimistic take on space-based solar power." This report is available at https://spacenews.com/nasa-report-offers-pessimistic-take-on-space-based-solar-power/#:~:text=WASHINGTON%20%E2%80%94%20Advocates%20of%20space%2Dbased,provide%20low%2Dcost%20green%20energy.
Dr. Mankin led off with comments about the NASA report being based on poor assumptions. Listen to John take on the report's assumptions, one by one, and then dismiss them one by one. For the first part of the interview, our guest dealt with the poor-quality assumptions, then we turned to the lack of good references and support for the assumptions. For lower launch costs, the report assumed launch prices were pretty close to as low as they will go. They dismissed any potential price lowering impact Starship might offer plus the report did not consider further launch price reductions through new technologies along with new markets. As you will hear, the report did not do well in supporting their assumptions, something that was noticed as missing and critical to the credibility of the report.
As I have done with other recent program summaries, use the tags, repeated below, to quickly summarize the topics we talked about and to suggest key areas of concern. For your convenience, the tags are repeated below.
Tags: Dr. John Mankins, Space Solar Power (SSP), NASA Office of Technology, Policy, and Strategy "Space-Based Solar Power" report, faulty assumptions lead to faulty conclusions, long operational timeline, launch cost assumption challenges, assumption for no further launch cost reduction, reference and biography limitations, SSP negative impact, no entrepreneurial consideration, Virtus Solis, challenges to the Appendix, Falcon 9 costs considered as close to being fixed, Starship cost reduction potential, nuclear power vs SSP economic comparisons, SSP competition, aggressive SSP development timeline, U.S. as space and technology leader, the basis for SSP opposition, government policy attempts to pick winners, SSP and the military with AFRL and NRL, SSP and microwave transmission, SSP and physics, actions to support SSP, hydrogen power, terrestrial solar, wind, terrestrial solar and overcast conditions, SSP beaming to area of need.
One of the areas I was most interested in was the omission of the potential positive impact of the startup and entrepreneurial component that was already starting to show up with the private company Virtus Solis. John agreed and said he was familiar with the company and their work but so far that portion of the potential market is very thin.
Another area of interest to me was John's commentary on economics and the viability of SSP on a commercial basis. At one point he suggested that before it would be ready for universal grid power, it would likely fill in on specialty markets with specialty needs such as remote locations or even the military. Comparisons with project costs for nuclear fission power were also interesting. The problem with all of these cost estimates and projections is that so many variables are estimated that to rely on such numbers to me is an added risk. Keep in mind that most of the variables are not commercial as of this time so the cost estimates along with economic analysis that we hear for both nuclear and SSP are at best very well-educated guesses.
Please post your questions/comments for Dr. Mankins on our blog for this show. John can be reach through me or his website, http://artemisinnovation.com/aboutus.html.