I went to the SATELLITE 2009 Conference at the convention center in Washington DC. It was interesting to see the other half of the space sector, that being the half that makes money. Human spaceflight and space science are the half that spend money without return. The Astrotech Reception was the first Washington Space Reception where I didn’t recognize anyone in the room. It was still a lovely reception on the bridge over L Street.
In the exhibit hall I discovered CTD – Composite Technology Development and their elastic memory composites which look very useful for building solar power satellites.
Solar Power Sats could make alot of money and also end the need for energy wars if done correctly. Dr. Pete Worden said that he used to be a Solar Power Sat advocate in the early days, before he realized how expensive current rocket technology would make their transportation to GEO from earth. Lunar resources may change that equation vastly. Colossal Carbon Tube technology may make an Earth based stationary space elevator possible today. This would drop the cost of transport to GEO by three orders of magnitude. I really believe that basic research into the materials science of this novel form of carbon (that is about ten thousand times larger in diameter than the single-wall carbon nanotubes of the past) is the key to our national security. Windle’s materials science research group at Cambridge is growing similar tubes at 18 mile long lengths now. Japan and Germany have recently announced efforts to produce industrial quantities of these carbon materials in the 200 to 400 ton per year range. America stands to be left in the dust of a “graphene fiber gap”. What if China, Japan, and Germany have space elevators, solar power sats, and america does not? The next head of NASA should have this awareness.