SPS. Five New Government Reports and a Second Dad

November 10, 2023

Author: Smith

The Space Studies Institute just added a new batch of U.S. government reports to the SSI SPS Research Library Online Collection:

There is some very good reading in these reports but we want to call special attention to that last one because at first glance it might seem the lesser of the bunch. It’s not. We’ll get to why in just a second.

Something occurred to us recently while we were “bingeing” on SPS news, writers at the big outlets have now mostly picked a standard format for their Solar Power Satellite (SPS)/Space-Based Solar Power (SBSP)/Satellite Solar Power Stations (SSPS)* related stories and they are very much sticking to it. They first mention that there was an Isaac Asimov story in 1941, then they bring us to 1968 with the name-drop of Peter Glaser then they hit the item of the moment with a couple of quotes from Caltech (if it’s an American story) or a theoretician (if it’s European) and then they wrap with a non-committal. It’s standard technical reporting and it gets the job done, but now that it seems to have become a formula, even a habit, there is a chance that its monotony might start to suck the life out of the reporting of any those updated details stuck in the middles.

There’s nothing wrong with mentioning Asimov’s story Reason, we like Ike. And of course you have to always give Dr. Glaser his absolute due, he is “The Inventor Of The Solar Power Satellite Concept” and “Father of Solar Power Satellites” but that growing habit really struck us the other day when a copy of the October 2022 edition of Physics World was dropped on the desk. In this now year-old journal, the story started with a mention of SSI’s former president Freeman Dyson’s legendary Spheres instead of Asimov’s robot story and then it went to the Dr. Glaser. And just that change alone made the reading actually refreshing.

So what? We just thought we’d mention it in case any technical writers stopped by. You want your stuff be read and you don’t want to risk the chance of being replaced by a bot that can copy&paste faster and cheaper than you, so maybe toss in something new as the draw-in. You know, Bova’s Powersat was pretty popular among the Michael Crichton/John Lange readers (a very big audience) so using that might ring a commonality bell for a 40+ target. Or, if your readers are into manga then Mobile Suit Gundam 00 is still considered a classic worth re-watching by youngers (and hip olders) and it was set in a time of Solar Power Satellites beaming energy down to Earth (and the 0080 War in the Pocket special had some mighty fine O’Neill Cylinder art, by the way). And of course for your intellectual audiences, there’s Neal Stephenson’s more recent “Fall” a.k.a. “Dodge, In Hell” – but they might not have even noticed SPS there because while Mr. Stephenson can spend ten pages beautifully describing a single leaf on a tree, the part on SPS is pretty much just a few paragraphs (perhaps because Mr. Stephenson just “gets it” and figures everyone else with a bit of smarts just “gets it” too.)

Anyway, this Physics World article from a year ago did something else that isn’t as common in reporting lately… the author, Jon Cartwright, mentions an historic event and calls it “the most powerful demonstration of wireless energy to date.”

Physics World magazine Article slice October 2022

We do note the subtlety in that line, 10Ghz vs the 2.4Ghz of the 802.11b Wifi that you tap into for free at Starbucks, but as a “Powerful” visual demonstration, seeing the Goldstone test take place is hard to beat. And that brings us to “Electronic And Mechanical Improvement Of Receiving Terminal Of A Free-Space Microwave Power Transmission System,” a technical report written by the OTHER Father of SPS/SBSP/SSPS, Dr. William C. Brown. While Dr. Glaser (Space Studies Institute Senior Advisor Dr. Peter Glaser) did the maths and engineerings and pushed and pushed and pushed AND PUSHED, Brown was at Raytheon making tangible hardware and getting observable results. Big, obvious ones.

It’s a little sad that Mr. Cartwright was impressed enough to write about the Goldstone tests but not enough to mention Bill Brown by name, but we can put the icing on his cake for you right here and now. The video below is the full Goldstone power beaming test. People who read that Physics World article and did a google for this test were most likely lead to a very short video extract (with thousands and thousands of views) but THIS video is the more useful one because it gives you the full context. And you get the full story from that man himself, the voice telling you what’s going on is Dr. Bill Brown. Hit play on it, we have it queued up to start at the Mojave tests (after you play it to the end you can roll it back to the beginning to also see the insider-famous model helicopter test, and see the man who invented your microwave oven).

Now that you have seen that and met the man, “William Brown, The Father of Microwave Power Transmission,” you might be surprised that you now can pretty much follow the general gist of a pretty technical SPS document.

(play with the buttons on the viewer, they’re there to help you. On a mobile device, the book will open in a new tab.)

It’s almost like a bit of magic, a report titled “Electronic And Mechanical Improvement Of Receiving Terminal Of A Free-Space Microwave Power Transmission System” now isn’t totally the drone you might have thought it was. And that is very good thing. For you, for the memory of SSI Senior Advisor Bill Brown and for the bigger picture and a little better appreciation for the Humans behind Solar Power Satellites.

Peter Glaser, Gerard K. O'Neill and Bill Brown at the first ISU

Space Studies Institute ISU at MIT

* – Boy, we wish everyone would just stick with one name for this concept. Glaser called it “SPS”/”Solar Power Satellites” and he was Peter Glaser, so why does every new generation keep adding syllables to things? It’s like living George Carlin’s “Shell-Shock” bit. 🙂

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