NSS Applauds Northrop Grumman/Caltech Push Toward Space Solar Power

The National Space Society (NSS) applauds a recent Northrop Grumman announcement that it is providing up to $17.5 million to an initiative with the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the development of Space Solar Power (SSP). SSP will be a major focus at NSS’s annual International Space Development Conference (ISDC)® in Toronto on May 20-24 (nss.org/2015).

NSS Executive Vice-President Dale Skran said, “We are delighted to see Northrop Grumman and Caltech taking a significant step toward creating a future that includes space solar power, a major step in the settlement of space. At a time when the U.S. Government has virtually abandoned SSP research it is encouraging to see private industry and universities stepping forward to fill the gap.”

Establishment of an operational space-based solar power system transmitting the sun’s energy to Earth is Milestone 8 in the NSS Space Settlement Roadmap (nss.org/RoadmapPart3). SSP could be a particularly attractive way to bring electricity to the 1.3 billion people in developing countries that don’t have electricity due to a lack of both power generation and transmission infrastructure.

Construction of significant numbers of Solar Power Satellites will create a large new market for transportation to orbit, greatly enhancing current trends toward lower launch costs and reusable rockets. This scenario establishes the groundwork for affordable space settlement – on the Moon, on Mars, among the asteroids, and in Free Space. A possible side-benefit of this project would be improved power sources for “electric” (ion/plasma) rockets, currently planned by NASA to play a key role in trips to Mars and other destinations.

The Northrop Grumman/Caltech initiative will focus on three areas: high-efficiency ultra-light photovoltaics, ultra-light deployable space structures, and phased-array power transmission. Up to 50 students, post-docs, and senior researchers will eventually join the team, who will use specialized laboratories constructed for the initiative.

A good place to find an overview of the current state of SSP work is the NSS Space Solar Power home page at nss.org/ssp. A wide variety of SSP material can be found there, ranging from reviews of recent books like The Case for Space Solar Power by NSS Policy Committee member John Mankins, to the world’s largest library of Space Solar Power free downloadable PDF books and reports.

Alliance Focused on Space Development, not the Destination

Al Globus, a member of the NSS Board of Directors as well as an NSS representative on the Alliance for Space Development Board of Directors, had the following letter published in Space News on April 13:

A recent op-ed by Paul Brower, “Why the U.S. Gave Up on the Moon” [Commentary, March 30, page 19], criticizes the Alliance for Space Development for not specifically advocating lunar settlement this year. Note that the Alliance is firmly focused on the development that must precede a successful settlement effort regardless of the location — the Moon, Mars, free space or asteroids. To this end, the Alliance’s 2015 goals are:

  • Incorporation of space development and settlement into the NASA Space Act.
  • Initiatives to improve launch, including a CATS (Cheap Access to Space) prize.
  • Full support of the commercial crew program.
  • Gapless transition from the International Space Station to private stations with NASA support.

By development we mean commercial, private, eventually self-sustaining industrialization of space. Successful development includes comsats and remote sensing, but neither of these involves life support. By settlement we mean places for people to live out their lives and raise their children. We’re not talking about flags and footprint missions or bases to do science. There’s nothing wrong with these activities, but they are not the focus of the alliance. We’re not looking to visit; we’re going into space to stay. This requires a strong, self-sustaining industrial infrastructure that is not dependent on the political winds of the moment, but rather on concrete benefits to large numbers of customers.

Note that the Alliance’s initial (2015) goals place a heavy emphasis on low-cost Earth-to-space transportation and innovative ways to develop it. To settle the Moon, or anywhere else, requires much lower launch costs than we have today. It is by far the most important single step for all space settlement and development, and is extremely important for all other space activities.

We need to transform how we do spaceflight — not just new rockets or spaceships, but more robust methods, economic models, value extraction and compelling justifications. That is why the Alliance is starting with these goals. We have proven that we can plant a flag with a heroic effort, but we can’t stay without affordable day-to-day logistical support and industrial capabilities in space. That is one of the goals of the gapless transition from the ISS to commercial space stations.

Every goal the Alliance supports is essential for settling the Moon, free space, Mars, asteroids and other solar system bodies. We each have our favorite location for the first space settlement (mine is free space), and the Alliance supports them all. The alliance does, and will, support a permanent return to the Moon, as well as to the other destinations, provided that we found these goals on clear and convincing answers to “why” and “how.”

In conclusion, as my colleague, Alliance board member Aaron Oesterle, wrote in an op-ed on March 14 [“We Need To Expand the Conversation About Space,” Commentary, page 19], the key isn’t which destination; the key is developing a self-sustaining, expanding private commercial and industrial capacity in space.

Northrop Grumman and Caltech begin Space Solar Power Initiative

PASADENA, Calif. – April 20, 2015 – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) has signed a sponsored research agreement with the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the development of the Space Solar Power Initiative (SSPI). Under the terms of the agreement, Northrop Grumman will provide up to $17.5 million to the initiative over three years.

Working together, the team will develop the scientific and technological innovations necessary to enable a space-based solar power system capable of generating electric power at cost parity with grid-connected fossil fuel power plants. SSPI responds to the engineering challenge of providing a cost-competitive source of sustainable energy. SSPI will develop technologies in three areas: high-efficiency ultralight photovoltaics; ultralight deployable space structures; and phased array and power transmission.

Northrop Grumman’s Joseph Ensor (left) and Caltech’s Ares Rosakis (right) shake hands as part of the recent SSPI commemoration event held at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California.

SSPI was conceived by three principal investigators from Caltech’s Division of Engineering and Applied Science (EAS) who jointly lead the initiative:

  • Harry A. Atwater, Jr., Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science, Director of the Resnick Sustainability Institute;
  • Ali Hajimiri, Thomas G. Myers Professor of Electrical Engineering and Medical Engineering; and
  • Sergio Pellegrino, Joyce and Kent Kresa Professor of Aeronautics, Professor of Civil Engineering and Jet Propulsion Laboratory Senior Research Scientist.

Atwater, Hajimiri and Pellegrino have assembled a team of students, postdoctoral scholars, and senior researchers that will eventually exceed 50 members. EAS is building specialized laboratory facilities to support this team. Northrop Grumman engineers and scientists will collaborate with the team at Caltech to develop solutions, build prototypes and obtain experimental and numerical validation of concepts that could allow development to proceed toward eventual implementation.

“By working together with Caltech, Northrop Grumman extends its long heritage of innovation in space-based technologies and mission solutions,” said Joseph Ensor, vice president and general manager, Space Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) Systems, Northrop Grumman. “The potential breakthroughs from this research could have extensive applications across a number of related power use challenges.”

“This initiative is a great example of how Caltech engineers are working at the leading edges of fundamental science to invent the technologies of the future,” said Ares Rosakis, Otis Booth Leadership Chair of the Caltech Division of Engineering and Applied Science and the Theodore von Kármán Professor of Aeronautics and Professor of Mechanical Engineering. “The Space Solar Power Initiative brings together electrical engineers, applied physicists, and aerospace engineers in the type of profound interdisciplinary collaboration that is seamlessly enhanced at a small place like Caltech. I believe it also demonstrates the value of industry and academic partnerships. We are working on extremely difficult problems that could eventually provide the foundations for new industries.”

Caltech and Northrop Grumman have a long history of collaboration, dating back decades to joint work between Professor Theodore von Kármán and Jack Northrop. Von Kármán was a scientist and engineer who directed Caltech’s Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory during the 1930s and later co-founded the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Northrop was an aviation pioneer who in 1939 founded the Northrop Corporation, one of the legacy companies that united to become Northrop Grumman. This unique $17.5 million initiative is one of the largest corporate sponsored research projects Caltech has undertaken in recent years.

We are making progress…

NSS Executive Vice President Dale Skran writes:

In the current April 20-26 print issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, one of the top three business magazines in the country (along with Fortune and Forbes), the lead editorial is about when to get into the asteroid market. You can read it yourself at:


The article is respectful and constructive, offering a serious proposal on how to handle asteroid mining rights. It reminds me quite a bit of the sort of articles you might see in the L5 News during the late 70s and early 80s.

National Space Society Calls SpaceX Launch Success a Step Toward Future Space Stations

The Falcon 9 launch by SpaceX to the International Space Station (ISS) on April 14th highlights the importance of the ISS in furthering space development and settlement. For example, Commercial Resupply Services 6 (CRS-6) lofted the Planetary Resources test spacecraft, the Arkyd 3, which will be launched from the ISS, and marks a significant step on a long road to mining the asteroids. However, the ISS is scheduled for destruction in 2024. If that time comes with no replacement, America’s and humanity’s hard-won foothold in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) will be lost.

The National Space Society (NSS) has released policy recommendations to extend and expand this foothold in space. The full paper is available at:


NSS does not suggest that the ISS be replaced by a single, large, government owned and operated facility. Instead, NSS proposes a program structured much like the successful Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) which led to the current CRS program and Commercial Crew (CCDev) programs where NASA helps develop multiple, privately owned, commercially operated space stations and then becomes an anchor tenant. The US ISS National Laboratory could continue to operate using these new space stations.

Additionally, NSS urges that NASA continue the existing CRS cargo and crew transportation arrangements for both up and down access to the new stations. Current international ISS partners and potential future partners would be invited to join the effort based on new partnership agreements, thus ensuring the continued international flavor of humanity’s LEO outposts.

Without adequate planning now, the end of the ISS program will result in the loss of a host of valuable capabilities and activities that promote commerce, science, space operations, and space settlement. Both Russia and China have said they will build stations of their own in the relatively near future. It seems self-evident that the USA will suffer a considerable blow in terms of prestige when the Russians and Chinese can offer stays on their LEO space stations to other nations while the U.S. offers nothing comparable.

NSS Executive Vice-President Dale Skran said, “We congratulate SpaceX on another successful launch demonstrating the efficacy of the COTS approach to developing significant space capabilities at low cost and urge NASA to adopt a similar approach to ensure a gapless transition beyond the ISS.”

Renowned Astronauts & Space Experts On-Board for 2015 International Space Development Conference® in Toronto

Moon Walker Buzz Aldrin leads stellar list of guest speakers

The 34th annual International Space Development Conference® (ISDC® 2015) is set for May 20-24, 2015 at the downtown Hyatt Regency in Toronto, Canada. The event is this year’s best opportunity to meet and learn from leaders on the cutting edge of concepts shaping the future of life on Earth and in space.

ISDC® is the yearly conference of the National Space Society, a nonprofit organization that has hosted the gathering since 1982. The Canadian Space Commerce Association is hosting ISDC® 2015. The International Space Development Conference® is unique in bringing together members of the general public with space activists, scientists, engineers, educators, astronauts, aerospace industry leaders, and government officials for one purpose: to explore humanity’s future in space.

An exciting array of distinguished guest speakers is set to share their experiences and insights with conference attendees, led by Apollo 11 astronaut and ShareSpace Foundation founder Buzz Aldrin. The second man to walk on the Moon, Aldrin also serves on the National Space Society’s Board of Governors.

A still-growing list of featured speakers at ISDC® 2015 includes:

  • Christopher J. Ferguson, former NASA astronaut and veteran of three space shuttle missions.
  • Marc Garneau, Member of the Canadian Parliament and the first Canadian Astronaut in space.
  • Lori Garver, General Manager of the Air Line Pilots Association and former NASA Deputy Administrator.
  • Li Ming, Vice President of the China Academy of Space Technology.
  • Geoff Notkin, world-renowned meteorite expert and star of TV’s Meteorite Men.
  • George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, a U.S. commercial spaceflight company.

ISDC speakers

I'm Going

NSS POLITICAL ACTION NETWORK ALERT: The Space Exploration, Development and Settlement Act of 2015

From Dale Skran, Chair, NSS Policy Committee

We need your help! The Space Exploration, Development and Settlement (SEDS) Act is about to be introduced in Congress. The purpose of the SEDS Act is to authorize and instruct NASA to pursue permanent human settlements in outer space as well as the development of space in general.  We need you to call your member of Congress (to be clear – your Representative, not your Senators) by April 17th and ask him or her to be an original co-sponsor of the Space Exploration, Development and Settlement (SEDS) Act.  Representative Dana Rohrabacher’s office will introduce the bill.

If this is your first PAN alert, or if you are uncertain who your Representative is, please look at this instruction guide: http://www.nss.org/legislative/congress.htm.

As an advocate for space, you know that NASA needs a big goal that can excite the public imagination and give clear direction to the human space flight program. The Space Exploration, Development and Settlement Act will make human settlement of space a long-term goal of the United States. By setting such a bold goal, Congress will assure U.S. predominance in outer space for decades, reinvigorate STEM education, catalyze massive economic growth, and energize public support for the space program.  The bill does not advocate for a specific destination, launch vehicle or contractual arrangement, nor does it calls for the expenditure of additional funds. It is a short, simple bill and is intended to give NASA clear guidance: get humans into space, this time to stay.

Please contact your member of Congress today and ask them to co-sponsor the Space Exploration, Development and Settlement Act.

Once you’ve contacted your Member of Congress please let us know so we can follow up with them.  You can do so by emailing dale.skran@nss.org.  You can also email any questions you may have at the same address.

[Copy of the Act in PDF]

National Space Society Awards Physicist Kip Thorne Its Mass Media Space Pioneer Award

The National Space Society announces that physicist Dr. Kip Thorne is the recipient of its 2015 Space Pioneer Award for Mass Media. This award will be presented at the National Space Society’s 2015 International Space Development Conference (http://isdc.nss.org/2015/). This will be the 34th ISDC and will be held in Toronto, Canada, at the Hyatt Regency Toronto (downtown). The conference will run from May 20-24, 2015.

About the Space Pioneer Award

NSS Space Pioneer AwardThe Space Pioneer Award consists of a silvery pewter Moon globe cast by the Baker Art Foundry in Placerville, California, from a sculpture originally created by Don Davis, the well-known space and astronomical artist. The globe, as shown at left, which represents multiple space mission destinations and goals, sits freely on a brass support with a wooden base and brass plaque, which are created by Michael Hall’s Studio Foundry of Driftwood, TX. NSS has several different categories under which the award is presented each year, starting in 1988.

About Dr. Kip Thorne

Kip ThorneDr. Thorne has had a very long and distinguished career as a physicist, Caltech physics professor, and author. Physics is the bedrock of space science, and what he has taught is vital to professionals working in the space community. Dr. Throne co-authored the landmark physics textbook Gravitation. He held the position of the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at Caltech from 1991 to 2009, when he left the position to work outside of the university. His work in Interstellar is one of the results. Dr. Thorne is good friends with world-famous physicist Stephen Hawking, prior recipient of the National Space Society’s prestigious Heinlein Award.