Friday, December 12, 2008

Obama Transition Looks at Far-Out Idea

From the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire:

When it comes to outer space, President-elect Barack Obama’s aides have been close-mouthed on such big questions as when to retire the Space Shuttle and whether to speed up plans for manned flights to the moon.

But the idea of turning solar power generated by orbiting satellites into electricity that can be used on the ground recently showed up on the Obama transition Web site, The notion has been kicked around in international academic and scientific circles for years — and it’s now posted on part of the site that lets members of the public throw up ideas for comment — something Team Obama calls “your seat at the table.” The space-based energy proposal links to a Pentagon-sponsored feasibility study and outside recommendations on how to launch such an initiative.

Beaming solar power from space back to Earth using lasers or microwaves is still a far-out idea, requiring advances in technology and cost reductions that are far from certain and, in any case, likely to take decades to develop. There are legions of skeptics, and Obama transition officials haven’t officially embraced the solar-power initiative.

But some transition team members are known to look favorably on the general idea. A spokesman for the transition didn’t respond to email requests for comment.

Such a dramatic shift would require, among other things, satellite technology that’s still in the early testing stages and substantially lower costs to launch satellites into orbit. But if the incoming administration wants to explore such options, for the first time it would link unmanned space exploration with ways to reduce America’s dependence on foreign sources of energy....MORE