SPACE WARS… OVER SUNLIGHT: KARDASHEV, ANYONE?
When I read this article spotted by D.P. (and thank you for passing it along), I was immediately reminded of the Kardashev classification system for extra-terrestrial civilizations. In case you're not familiar with that, a brief review is in order before we get to D.P.'s article.
Kardashev was a Soviet astrophysicist who developed a classification system for extra-terrestrial civilizations based on the amounts of energy those civilizations required to sustain them. It's the sort of thing scientists do when they're contemplating the unthinkable, rather like Ufologist Dr. J. Allen Hynek's classification of UFO encounters (yes, he was the one who invented close encounters of various kinds, including the third kind). For Kardashev, there were three types of civilization based on energy consumption: (1) Type One was a civilization so advanced it required an entire planet to sustain itself; (2) Type Two was even more advanced requiring an entire star to sustain itself; and (3) a Type Three required an entire galaxy. Note that this scale is based not only on the energy reguirements, but the ability to store and use energy at those levels. We'll get back to that.
When contemplating this system of classification, it becomes rather evident that humanity is more or less (depending on whom one talks to) at the cusp of becoming a Kardashev class one civilization. And with that in mind, contemplate D.P.'s story, because there's something in it whose implications leaped off the page when I read it:
Most of the article is about something I've blogged about and talked about many times: the growing commercialization of space and the race for space resources will inevitably lead to competition and the potential for real honest-to-goodness space wars.
But then there's this:
He added: “An even larger potential game-changer could be space-based solar energy. This has more near-term potential – and even if it might be a less significant diplomatic win, it would be much more of a political punch in the gut to either country’s population. It would be not just signals from space, but wireless power available 24/7.“It would be a solar power plant, a solar farm of solar panels put into space. Instead of the [limited] day and night cycle on the ground, you have constant sunlight delivering energy via a microwave or laser link to the ground.”The California Institute of Technology, backed by more than $100 million in private funding, is hoping to perform a small-scale solar array test as soon as 2023.Chrisman acknowledged that because of the distance and the need to transfer the energy from space to the Earth, there would be some loss of energy depending on how strong the signal is, and wavelength, with an estimated loss of 10-30% of the power at some wavelengths, but a greater loss at other wavelengths.But even with these losses “we would be talking mega- or giga-watt scale solar plants in orbit, which other than wear and tear, do not require refueling or other standard costs associated with transporting energy over long distances.”
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