The next energy frontier: A race for solar power from space?

WASHINGTON — The idea of using satellites to capture solar radiation in space and beam it back to Earth to use as energy was first posited in 1968, and first caught the interest of the US government during the mid/late-1970s “energy crisis.”

After a number of technology development initiatives by NASA and the Energy Department fizzled out due to technical and funding challenges, the Defense Department picked up the baton 40 years later.  A 2007 report by the now defunct National Security Space Office dubbed space-based solar power a “strategic opportunity that could significantly advance U.S. and partner security, capability, and freedom of action.”

But ultimately Pentagon leaders at the time in essence tagged the issue as “not my problem,” and the report was filed away on a shelf somewhere deep in the five-sided building to molder.

Now, 15 years after the last failed push, the concept of solar power satellites seems to be back in fashion — not just in the US with initiatives at DoD and NASA, but around the globe — despite continued technical challenges involved in developing an operationally effective system, as well as lingering questions about the high investment costs of the supporting architecture.

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