April 10, 2012

Space-based Solar Power: Possible Defense Applications and Opportunities

Space-based Solar Power: Possible Defense Applications and Opportunities for Navy Research Lab Contributions (105 pages)

A Forward Operating Base (FOB) exists to support a small number of reconnaissance and surveillance teams as well as for military power projection ahead of primary forces. As such, the FOB can be anywhere from 50 to 5000 personnel because it is task-organized and scales to meet the size of the assigned task(s).

Provision of electrical energy to the FOB must be viewed as a necessary commodity. The FOBs tend to be in remote, relatively inaccessible areas, due to both terrain and location of opposing forces (OPFOR). Resupply missions are tradeoffs between the risk of sending in an armed convoy and the risk, and substantial additional costs, of air resupply.

With basic assumptions of 1 to 3 kW/person at the FOB, generator usage can grow rapidly. An appropriate example is the mobile Command and Control center known as the Unit Operations Center (UOC) – the generator provided is 20 kW and consumes approximately half of a small trailer (the other half is occupied by an 8-ton environmental control unit and tent). The UOC is appropriately sized for use in an FOB and yet provides power only for itself. One innovative option is to have battlefield vehicles provide power for temporary operations – a concept demonstrated by the Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Targeting Vehicle (RST-V) – which was capable of providing 30 kW of prime power to external systems. While 30 kW may be adequate for temporarily powering the UOC, as was suggested by the prime vendor, it is inadequate for any larger installation.

It is possible now to build a low-power LEO system experiment or series of experiments that would not require breakthrough technologies and that could be launched on a single launch vehicle. This would likely speed closure of some of the outstanding technical questions for SBSP and enable iteration toward optimum designs for defense and civilian SBSP systems.

Though more challenging, it is possible even without the knowledge gleaned from flight experiments to create today a detailed design of a MW-sized system that would require us to identify technologies that require development. This would help focus hardware development work in advanced technologies required by large SBSP systems, technologies which are likely to have other useful applications as well.

The consensus among participants in this study was that the concepts and technologies involved are integral to many national security applications. Profound opportunities exist for furthering the state of the research and especially for collaborating with others engaged in similar research, including those at NASA, JAXA, and other entities.

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