Press Release

Fly me to the Moon for Clean Reliable Electricity

By SpaceRef Editor
October 7, 2002
Filed under , ,

Moon-Based Systems Could Supply Solar Power to Earth

HOUSTON, Oct. 7, 2002 – The key to a prosperous world is
clean, safe, low-cost electrical energy, according to University
of Houston physicist David Criswell. And his idea for how to get
it is literally out of this world.
For more than 20 years, Criswell has been formulating the plans
and the justification for building bases on the moon to collect
solar energy and beam it through space for use by electricity-hungry
Earthlings.

Criswell will talk about lunar solar power systems at the World
Space Congress 2002 in Houston Oct. 10-19.

“Prosperity for everyone on Earth requires a sustainable
source of electricity,” Criswell says. The World Energy Council,
a global multi-energy organization that promotes the sustainable
supply and use of energy for the greatest benefit of all, agrees.
The WEC’s primary message is that affordable modern energy
services for everyone -including the two billion people who
have no access to commercial energy – are a key to sustainable
development and peace throughout the world. See http://www.worldenergy.org/wec-geis/publications/default/stat2002.asp
for details.

Criswell estimates that by the year 2050, a prosperous population
of 10 billion would require about 20 terawatts of power, or about
three to five times the amount of commercial power currently produced.

The moon receives more than 13,000 terawatts of solar power, and
harnessing just one percent could satisfy Earth’s power needs,
he says. The challenge is to build a commercial system that can
extract a tiny portion of the immense solar power available and
deliver the energy to consumers on earth at a reasonable price.

“A priority for me is getting people to realize that the
lunar power system may be the only option for sustainable global
prosperity,” Criswell says. He contributed a chapter to a
new book, Innovative Solutions for CO2 Stabilization, published
in July, which addresses major aspects of sustainability and global
commercial power. See http://uk.cambridge.org/engineering/catalogue/0521807255/.

Criswell’s lunar-based system to supply solar power to Earth
is based on building large banks of solar cells on the moon to collect
sunlight and send it back to receivers on Earth via a microwave
beam. Solar cells are electronic devices that gather sunlight and
convert it into usable electricity. The microwave energy collected
on Earth is then converted to electricity that can be fed into the
local electric grid.

Such a system could easily supply the 20 terawatts or more of electricity
required by 10 billion people, Criswell says. The system is environmentally
friendly, safe to humans, and reliable since it is not affected
by clouds or rain, either on the Earth or the moon, which essentially
has no weather.

The moon continuously receives sunlight, except once a year for
about three hours during a full lunar eclipse, when stored energy
could be used to maintain power on Earth, Criswell adds.

The system could be built on the moon from lunar materials and
operated on the moon and Earth using existing technologies, he says,
which would greatly reducing the cost of the operation. He estimates
that a lunar solar power system could begin delivering commercial
power about 10 years after program start-up.

Technology under development at UH increases the options for successfully
building a lunar power base. UH researchers at the Texas Center
for Superconductivity and Advanced Materials (TcSAM) are developing
nanotechnology techniques that could transform the lunar soil into
solar cells.

“The raw materials needed to make solar cells are present
in the moon’s regolith,” says Alex Freundlich, research
professor of physics, who has examined lunar material to determine
whether it contains the necessary ingredients for making solar cells.
He, research scientist Charles Horton, Alex Ignatiev, director of
TcSAM, and a team of NASA-JSC and industry scientists also have
used “simulated” moon soil to determine how to go about
manufacturing the solar cell devices on the moon.

“Our plan is to use an autonomous lunar rover to move across
the moon’s surface, to melt the regolith into a very thin
film of glass and then to deposit thin film solar cells on that
lunar glass substrate. An array of such lunar solar cells could
then be used as a giant solar energy converter generating electricity,”
Freundlich says.
Criswell, who has a Ph.D. in physics from Rice University, began
thinking about lunar-based power systems more than 20 years ago
when he was an administrator at the Lunar Science Institute, now
the Lunar and Planetary Institute. For about seven years at the
institute, Criswell was responsible for reviewing nearly 3,400 NASA
proposals for lunar science projects.

“I really got to know the peer-review process and I learned
about all aspects of lunar science,” he says.
For the past 10 years, Criswell has been director of UH’s
Institute for Space Systems Operations, which receives funding from
the state for space-related research projects conducted by faculty
and students at UH and UH-Clear Lake in conjunction with NASA- Johnson
Space Center. See http://isso.uh.edu.

To receive UH science news via email, visit http://www.uh.edu/admin/media/sciencelist.html

About the University of Houston

The University of Houston, Texas’ premier metropolitan research
and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers
and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate,
civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university
in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and
service with more than 34,400 students.

SpaceRef staff editor.