SPS Books

Books? Are you serious?

opinions expressed in the reviews on this page are those of the author, SSI SA Robert Smith.


Here’s a secret an old guy told me: No one reads books now that there’s youtube, they’re uncool and old timey. But if you read a book then you have an edge because in their hearts everyone feels the guilty truth that the internet does not actually have all the facts. Plus, and this is the best kicker: a person who quotes a book in a meeting will always get the benefit of the doubt.

This is not a complete, exhaustive list of all SPS books – but there really aren’t THAT many books exclusively dedicated to SPS, so it might be a good chunk of them.

Yes, there are lots of SPS technical papers in the hardcover Space Studies Institute Space Manufacturing proceedings. Yes, there are lots of articles in AAS, AIAA and IAA hardbound volumes. Those aren’t easily available to the general public, so they aren’t listed here.

Wow, some of these are way expensive on Amazon. SSI keeps Gerard K. O’Neill’s “The High Frontier” print and kindle versions super inexpensive for people, maybe they should jack up the price and actually get some darned money for their efforts. Anyway, grab the ISBNs and stick them in ebay or (better) bookfinder.com and if you really want one in particular try those options weekly, eventually you will find a seller who doesn’t know what they have.

Solar Power Satellites: The Emerging Energy Option

Edited by Peter E. Glaser, Frank P. Davidson and Katinka I. Csigi
© Copyright 1993
300 pages
ISBN: 0138248060 / 9780138248062
See it on Amazon

This is the fundamental book. The list of contributors is the Who’s Who of SPS and Power Beaming giants and they all deliver as you would expect them to. Some parts get quite technical but many, most, the majority, of the distinct pieces are very readable by anyone older than 12 who has a true interest in SPS. Classic but not outdated. Fundamental. Recommended. Required.

All that said, look at the next one.

Solar Power Satellites: A Space Energy System for Earth

Edited by Peter E. Glaser, Frank P. Davidson and Katinka I. Csigi
© Copyright 1998
654 pages
ISBN: 047196817X / 9780471968177
See it on Amazon

Everything about the earlier edition applies. And then some. I haven’t done a word by word check but it appears nothing has been taken away and more pieces have just been added to it. More good pieces. It is not as cool to see on your shelf but if I had to pick for a person who will actually read, I’d have to say this is the better option.

Not a one-sitting book. Many diverse aspects presented that each require time to settle in with each other.

Space-Based Solar Power: Feasible Idea or Folly?

Edited by Carl P. Thompson
© Copyright 2015
75 pages
ISBN: 9781634831451
See it on Amazon

This is a weird paperback. I almost didn’t try it – a couple of times – because it looks like a children’s overview. It’s not. Mr. Thompson gets a big note as an editor but there are only two papers inside: 1) Space-Based Solar Power: A Technical, Economic and Operational Assessment by Jeffrey L. Caton (noted as “an edited, reformatted and augmented version of a monograph issued by the Strategic Studies Institute”) and 2) Solar Power in Space by Lt. Col. Peter Garretson (noted as “… version of a report that originally appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of Strategic Studies Quarterly”). Yep, it’s military-ish. That’s not bad in any way at all, the Air Force has helped a lot to keep SPS awareness alive where there’s money and where it could count. Good? Yeah. I guess. Think G. Harry Stine’s SPS instead of Gerard K. O’Neill’s SPS. Real short, not a super wide view of the whole but informative. It’s unusual.

Sun Power: The Global Solution for the Coming Energy Crisis

by Ralph Nansen
© Copyright 1995
252 pages
ISBN: 0964702118 / 9780964702110
See it on Amazon

For years when I wanted to introduce someone I liked to SPS – someone who had trepidation about getting too close to those crazy O’Neill people – this was the book that I bought for them. And most every single time this was indeed the perfect book. It still is a perfect book for a solid understanding. It is well written. Nansen has the cred from being on some real and true SPS work at Boeing and he could be loosely considered the “Pre-Mankins.” Over time technical things can change but in the Space Industry the fundamentals tend to stick around longer [than they should] and so I think this is probably still a good one to get, read and pass along to someone you like. Did I say it was well written?

Energy Crisis: Solution from Space

by Ralph Nansen
© Copyright 2009
203 pages
ISBN: 1926592069 / 9781926592060
See it on Amazon

Being so incredibly happy with Nansen’s 1995 book, I really looked forward to this one’s release. But if I had to choose between the two, I’d still go with the original one. Hey, I respect anyone who can finish writing any book, so who am I? But this one just felt like a pitch to the Obama Administration, full of the hope of that heady time. Yeah, it does do some updating on the potential techs but on the whole… I’d still go with the first one as a useful starter.

Solar Power Satellites

by Don M. Flournoy
© Copyright 2012
107 pages
ISBN: 9781461419990
See it on Amazon

I just said that I feel bad not finding positives in a book by someone who had the gumption to at least write one, right? Well, here’s the exception. This touts itself as an ISU graduate program textbook but I can only call it cribnotes of cribnotes.

It DOES say in the intro that “this small book is intended to be a “quick study”” but… come on. I think, I hope, that any person who has gone out of their way to intentionally choose to go to the ISU would be already beyond this level of information simply by osmosis.

Way Harsh? If it were a few bucks I would agree BUT the MSRP on this pamphlet is $70 USD. I paid full price for it so I believe I paid for the right to be honest about it: I read it done and done on the blink-and-it’s-over train from San Fran to Menlo and felt like I had been truly taken for a ride.

“Springer Briefs…” yep, it is a Springer and it really is brief.

The Case for Space Solar Power

by John C. Mankins
© Copyright 2014
488 pages
ISBN: 099133700X / 9780991337002
See it on Amazon

Buy it. Read it. Take the time to flip it sideways to put the figures and tables together with the nearby words. It put me to sleep a few nights and kept me up late on others.

Maybe not a great first introduction but right after a person has the gist (and if they got a bit of the bug for it), they can do this.

Is it the end all, does it set it all out to just follow the bouncing ball to launch-ready perfection? No. None of these books do. It goes its own way in a number of places, which is not a bad thing. Orthodoxy is not automatic rightness.

Mankins is the face of SPS today, the current benchmark and go-to guy. If for only that reason, you have to actually take this one on and finish it.

(head over to the SPS Videos page, he’s in one of the videos there.)

For Honorable Mention:

Radiation: What it is, What you need to know

by Robert Peter Gale & Eric Lax
© Copyright 2013
270 pages
ISBN: 9780307950208
See it on Amazon

This is not an SPS book. Not at all.

I bring it to you because every single time SPS is raised to public awareness the immediate reaction is that we want to make a death ray to kill birds and cause cancer.

Every. Single. Time.

Bill Nye once said something at a MilSat thing in Long Beach that I still think was his best observation ever. He was talking about how when a big oil spill happens everyone and their brother starts rushing to the area to show that they have come up with the perfect solution by testing chemicals in their garages. And they dive right into that toxic soupy water, coming up covered and smiling. But when Fukashima happened, or when ANY hint of nuclear issue is even mentioned to maybe happen… people start sucking down iodine and running for the hills.

His observation pointed to a failure of education. We know that petroleum products are highly toxic but from years of getting our oil changes and filling our tanks we ignore the risks and dive in to help gooey birds. But “Radiation” has been kept so far away from us, and the fear has been so engrained by even the knowledge being taboo, that we accept NOTHING at all when we hear anything that sounds like it. We just run.

So, this book. It is a “popular science” science book, not a tome. It is not only easy to read, it is interesting reading and it will keep a person reading. And they will learn a bit about what “Radiation” truly is. And then those scary, scary, scary words that come with SPS like “microwave” might be a bit more accessible to them. Knowledge is power.

(But, boy howdy, they’ll never want to live anywhere near a coal plant again… EEEK, Radiation!).

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Space Studies Institute
7429 Laurel Canyon Blvd
Suite S
North Hollywood CA 91605
(661) 750-2774