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Justin Baskall

watcher/donator, Nerdfighter

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Alternitive energy source: Dyson-Harrop satellite

So I read this rudimentary stub om wikipedia about a theoretical satalite that would use a electrified wire to pull electrons from solar wind. From there the elctrons would be used to create electricity to power an infared laser that would transfer the remaining particles downto earth. On earth the electrons would be used to create electricity that we could use to power most things on earth.

According to the theory, as the satellite growsnin size, sodoes the amount of electrons accumulated and by extension, the amount of electricity produced. One theory suggested that this design could produce between 10x and 100x the amount ofenergy currently used onthe planet, anda small one could be used to power almost 1000 homes.

And yet we never hear about this idea. This should be implamented imediately. It is a completely safe, free, and efficient way of producing electricity in large quantitys, with none of the draw backs of wind, solar, geothermal, coal, or nuclear methods accept for the size factor. So long as the satellite panels face the sun, they never have to be turned off because it is 1. Self sustaining, and 2. The sun isalmost always pumping out solarwind.

I also heard a theory to put one of these satelites in the Van-Allan belt, which is just a large accumulation of the nessacery particles

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  • Feb 12 2014: NASA did an experiment on this effect many years ago. They generated even more power than they expected, so much so that they were unable to run the experiment at full length.

    The simple truth is that there are unlimited resources and energy available to us - just not on this planet. Getting out of the Earth's gravity well is the only major impediment to harvesting them.
  • Jan 16 2014: Why not extend the idea to the Dyson Sphere?
    • Jan 16 2014: Even dyson himself has said that the idea, although valid, isn't good. In fact he has multiple times said that he would prefer that the dyson sphere not benamed after him. Basically what the dyson sphereisis a giant ball that would surround an entire star either partially or comletely. The inside would be a mixture of solar pannels and the dyson harrop coils, both being used to collect all of the possible energy let off by that star. But in all reallity, there are litterally not enough materials on earth to make a full layer around the sun, not unless we gutted the whole planet and then some. The idea would produce a lot of power, but it is unfeasable
  • Jan 14 2014: Now THAT would be an amazingly powerful weapon!
    • Jan 14 2014: Theoretically yes, but only if the electrons were stored up and then shot into one large burst, instead of continuous beaming. One large burst might be big enough to knock out a small power grid if placed right.
      • Jan 15 2014: That would be the dominant development pathway.
    • Jan 15 2014: Actually, it'd make for a pretty poor weapon.

      For a start, orbital mechanics being what they are (predictable), a sophisticated enemy will always know when and where your satellites are, meaning they could hide from them much like they sometimes hide from spy satellites today. It also means the satellite may not be there when you need it--again, you can't control its orbit.

      Second, atmospheric disturbances can render it ineffective, making you dependent on the weather. Lasers have a hard time with fog, sand, or even clouds, making it useless when overcast (or undercast from the satellite's point of view).

      Third, the actual energy concentration required to cause harm to armored targets on the ground is surprisingly high. Anything short of capable of melting steel is pretty much a waste of time. Naval targets are a bit softer, but they can better defend themselves (say, by releasing clouds of smoke).

      So all in all, not much of a weapon at all. Also illegal under international law, but no one really cares about that.
      • Jan 16 2014: Why use it on armored targets? It would be much more effective on unprotected civilians. International law means nothing when a rich (Russian) state has resumed dictatorship.
        • Jan 16 2014: Seems like a very expensive way to shoot at civilians...
          Do wrong, right. I don't care how heinous your actions, they don't excuse incompetence.
  • Jan 14 2014: Planning for the end of oil by richard

    Above is the tital of a vid I saw in ted ed that talked about why some scientists belive oil will never run out. In it he points out that as of like 2009, only between 30%-40% of the worlds energy needs came from oil. He also showed that in the 1980's I think he said that coal had reached its peak use and before that wood had reached its peak in the 1920' s. Now after those peaks, we bacame less and less depenent on those reasorces, until today we just find it plain odd if someone is burning wood for fuel, discusting but acceptable if someone uses coal, and about right now is when people are starting to question oil.

    So this guy theorized that like wood and coal, we haven't just run out after their peak, because man kind was inovative enough to find new ways to get us energy and that is what I am talking about in this conversation. Yes nuclear power and geothermal power and even renewables will likely reach their peaks before this is implamented, but I do belive that one day in what some would call" the age of space", this could work.
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    Jan 14 2014: Justin,
    I read about this awhile back, as I remember the idea was to use the technology to power space craft.
    Your proposal to provide power on earth is an interesting concept. However, like many interesting concepts, it can not be implemented immediately as you suggested regardless of the many benefits you've listed.
    Some of the respondents have listed reasons that would make it impractical, expensive, and, well, not worth doing.
    And it is all true.
    I see a need for a new source of energy. There is a finite limit on fossil fuels, uranium, and it seems with all the "noise" about current alternative power sources in use, these show only limited promise for a successful solution to future energy needs.
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    Jan 13 2014: I think a calculation would be nice for this example... But I'm not going to do that, it's too much work.

    Take the cost of production and transport (this is the really big one) and subtract profits made from electricity. Then add maintenance costs, or lifetime of the satellite and see if you come up with numbers that would support such a project.

    I like the idea but since were not that far into the space age yet I don't think that it's economically sound yet.
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    Jan 13 2014: Very interesting article, Justin. Here's the link, for the benefit of later readers.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyson%E2%80%93Harrop_satellite

    I wonder how well this idea will fare against other forms of space-based power generation.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space-based_solar_power
    • Jan 22 2014: Thank you for posting that link. You know I think it would do fairly well. The general idea is sound and the sun is almost always letting off solar wind. The biggest problem would be transmition back to earth. As stated in other comments, a laser can make it through the atmosphere, but if it runs into clouds or fog, it can get distorted.

      Any sugestions?
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        Jan 23 2014: Most discussions of space-based solar power use microwaves rather than lasers to transmit back to the ground. The receiving station would be a pattern of dishes several hundred feet wide, and to my understanding, such a large mi9crowave beam would not be significantly bothered by weather patterns.
  • Jan 13 2014: wow
  • Jan 13 2014: This would probably be a good time to point out that sending a certain mass of matter from the earth to space currently costs more then that same mass in gold...

    Power production via satellites is and will remain completely and utterly economically unfeasible until something fundamental changes about the process (say, a space elevator, which current technology is insufficient to build). Honestly, I'm not sure even that will be enough.
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      Jan 13 2014: The technology will come, Nadav, and is already being researched. I recommend reading 'Mining the Sky' by John S. Lewis, and 'The High Frontier' by Gerard K. O'Neill.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mining_the_Sky
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_High_Frontier:_Human_Colonies_in_Space
      • Jan 13 2014: The thing is with undeveloped technology, is that its precisely that.
        Nuclear fusion's been twenty years away for fifty years now. Why should space elevators be different?

        Concepts are cheap. Now if we had a working prototype, I might be more inclined to agree, but seeing as we don't...
    • Jan 13 2014: Nadav
      Aluminum used to cost more than gold, why even try to refine the process of extraction when you could use gold?

      The point is if there is a need, and soon there will be, it will be done.
      • Jan 13 2014: The need is for power, not for power satellites specifically.

        There are more efficient ways of going about power production, from an economic standpoint. With current technology, power satellites aren't in the same league as coal, gas, nuclear or even earthbound renewables. In terms of electric energy per cost, they're closer to hamster wheel power.
        • Jan 14 2014: How far are we from earth resources dwindling. With population growth, need of agricultural land, peak oil. We are not that far from a paridigm shift.

          Are satellites the answer, no one knows, as of yet, but when we place a scale of economy against survival and cooperation no one wins.
        • Jan 22 2014: That is a very good point but through the history of power generation, many reasorces have reached their peak use and them man kind developed a newer, cleaner way to get energy. From wood we got coal, from coal we could get anyone of those sources. And although it may take a few years and a.few leaps in technology, this could very well become a use meathod.
      • Jan 14 2014: Power producing satellites won't solve your need for farm land...
        At best you could produce energy with them, but when it comes to dwindling energy sources, except for oil, used mostly as a motor fuel and not for large scale electric production, things aren't actually that bad.

        We've coal to last for a few hundred years, gas for a similar amount, and Uranium to last even longer.
        By the time those become a problem, the future will be so unrecognizable that any prediction we make now is more or less useless. Same reason America's celebrated founding fathers didn't put anything in the constitution about nuclear weapon's proliferation--no way of knowing it would have been an issue.
        • Jan 14 2014: Valid points and even more proof that the economic metric should not apply.

          The problem arises when a man made structure, the economy, is used as tool to prevent progress.

          Hear me out

          We know that fossil fuels are decaying in availability
          Land is finite, we cannot make more.
          These are facts that must be addressed and to hold a ruler to the problem and say it does not fit with in a budget seems to be very counterproductive as a society. Even more so when we agree the economy is not sentient and can be changed to serve our future needs .

          The future will be here, lets use the freedom gained from our founding fathers to shape it now.
      • Jan 14 2014: You misunderstand. Economic considerations are not about making money or greed holding back process. Its about resource allocation.

        If I spend ten times the money on my energy bill, that doesn't just mean a financial loss, that means that ten times as much material and labor went into energy production that could have been used for other things (like gathering ten times the energy, if that's your primary objective).

        Power producing satellites are simply extremely wasteful in terms of the resources required to make and maintain them.
        Your average satellite today can cost in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars. That cost is reflected in the exotic materials, the expensive electronics, the salaries of all the engineers that designed it, and the very impressive amount of fuel it took to get it up into orbit to begin with. And at the end of the day, its able to transmit power only when it's orbit allows it to face the sun (usually around 2/3rds of the time), plus atmospheric interference will sap quite a bit of efficiency out of it, especially when its overcast (or under cast if you're looking at it from the sattelite's perspective).

        If you start crunching the numbers, you'll realize that its not in the same league as coal, nuclear or even renewable. To be perfectly honest, I think even the hamsters can give it a run for its money; it really is that bad.

        One final point, the satellites won't save you much land at all. If you were to say, instal those same solar panels on earth, you'd do it on land that you've got no use for anyway--deserts and such.
        Though solar panels are also awful in terms of money/resources per unit of energy, but that's a different matter.
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          Jan 14 2014: "...its able to transmit power only when it's orbit allows it to face the sun (usually around 2/3rds of the time)..."

          Please explain why it's not 100% of the time.
        • Jan 14 2014: Or even 95% of the time because you obviously have to accont for things getting in the way, but the closer you get to the sun the less gets in the way because there is less there
      • Jan 15 2014: The 2/3rd's part comes from the satellite's orbit.
        I don't know how good your grasp of physics is, but an orbiting body typically finds itself in an elliptical path, with the center of mass pulling it being in one of the ellipse's focus points, and other being empty space.
        Now, with proper engineering, its possible to set the satellite's orbit in a way that it's facing the sun for most of the time (again, the earth isn't in the center of the ellipse, its in one of the focus points). The rest of the time, the sun is obscured by the earth.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orbits

        I suppose one could set the time with view of the sun as higher, partially by getting farther from earth, but that creates further problems in transmitting the power to the ground.

        And this is all of course without factoring in things like clouds, smog, sandstorms and other atmospheric effects that get in the way even when the satellite is transmitting. You can usually get a communication through them if you try hard enough, but there is a difference between radio and power transmitting via laser, where you'd loose most of your wattage on heating up the clouds/sand/whatever.
        This last bit is actually one of the major reasons the military is hesitant to adopt laser weapons.
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          Jan 16 2014: A solar power satellite would be in geosynchronous orbit, so there shouldn't be a problem keeping it aligned. And if would only be blocked by the Earth's shadow about 0.7% of the time. Microwave transmission to the ground are only slightly affected by sky conditions.

          http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2012/03/space-based-solar-power/
          http://www.nss.org/settlement/ssp/

          As you've pointed out, I'm not limiting mankind to technology available in the twenty-teens. Once the technology is worked out, there will be no other type of power generation that will compare with space-based solar.
      • Jan 16 2014: I've sat on a radar long enough to tell you that microwave transmissions are very much affected by atmospheric conditions. You'd end up with a situation much like ground based solar power--on overcast days, you'd still be getting power, just not nearly as much.
        Also note that geosynchronous satellites are a fair bit more expensive, and transmitting power back down to the ground gets progressively harder the higher you go.

        Another problem worth considering is that a single solar flare or a meteorite breaking up in the wrong place could take out half your satellites. They're not what you'd call hardy. It doesn't help that space is cluttered up with junk--micro meteorites and man made debris mostly. At several kilometers a second, even something as small as a grain of sand can do major damage, and launching hundreds or thousands of power generating satellites will only make it worse.

        It might be something worth considering if we run out of fissionable material (centuries in the future) and nuclear fusion is still twenty years away (like its been for the past fifty), but otherwise, it's just impractical.
        Even earth based solar panels are currently more effective, and out of all the big power generating methods, the only one that's less cost efficient then solar is hamster power.
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          Jan 16 2014: The problems you bring up have been dismissed as minimal by most theorists over the 80 years the idea has been under discussion. Can you point to a single example of a geosynchronous communication or weather satellite that's been struck by space debris or damaged by a solar flare in the past 60 years they've been up there? Do you really believe that mankind will be forever trapped within Earth's gravity well?
        • Jan 22 2014: Just a question for you or lawren, what if we made it something more intense? We have the ability to create gamma waves, why not use those instead of microwave? I mean of course you would have to bemuch more presise with your targeting, but otherwise, why not?
      • Jan 16 2014: Well, there was that one Iridium (low earth orbit communication) satellite that crashed into some old Russian model. Made a real mess. Not Geosynchronous though.

        Its currently not that much of a problem because there aren't that many satellites up. You start increasing that number though, and they'll start coming down more and more often. Each lost satellite makes for a significant financial loss, and creates further debris.
        We're talking long term here. Chances are the skies are only going to get more packed with debris, not the other way around.

        And besides, if we've talking about off planet power generation, why not just mine some asteroids for fissionable material and be done with it?
        Nuclear power plants work rain or shine, with or without a clear line of sight to the heavens. They're quite expensive, but unlike solar (space or otherwise), they have the power output to show for it.