The National Space Society Pays Tribute to Dr. Kalam — One of Our Leading Lights Has Joined the Stars

On 27 July 2015, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, eleventh President of India and a friend and inspiration to the National Space Society (NSS), passed away. “NSS would like to convey our condolences to the family and friends of Dr. Kalam, and to all of India. His death is a great loss not only to India, but to the whole of humanity,” said Mark Hopkins, chair of the NSS Executive Committee. “In his honor, a permanent part of the online NSS library will be dedicated to his visionary space legacy.”

Dr. Kalam shared the National Space Society’s vision of the future of space solar power, exploration, and human development. He was a true friend to NSS — making time to meet with our members, attending and addressing the 2013 International Space Development Conference, taking part in our society’s press conferences, and giving his name to our shared Kalam-NSS Space-based Solar Power Initiative.

In alignment with NSS, Dr. Kalam’s vision encompassed the mining of asteroids and the use of the Moon as an industrial base and source of energy. Looking into the future, he saw an extra-terrestrial habitat on Mars as a fail-safe mechanism for problems on Earth. He hoped to see these activities blossom into a mature regime of space security, with Space Traffic Control, Space Debris Management, and an International Space Force for defense against asteroids.

Born in 1931, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam was an aerospace engineer, a true rocket scientist who significantly advanced rocketry and spacefaring in India’s Defense Research and Development Organization and in the Indian Space Research Organization. Heir to the vision of Professor Vikram Sarabhai, who set India on a course of a socio-economically oriented space program, Dr. Kalam was the man who raised India’s eyes to the stars, and led India to join the community of spacefaring nations. One of the true statesmen of our generation, Dr. Kalam served as the 11th President of the world’s largest democracy, and was regarded as one of the greatest minds, visionaries, and peacemakers of the early 21st century. He died at age 83, articulating his visions to a new generation.

In a stirring eulogy entitled “India has lost its Jewel,” India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “Kalamji saw poetry in a tree and energy that could be harvested in water, wind, and sun. We should learn to look at the world through his eyes, and with the same missionary zeal.” He further stated, “his memory is best honored by the creation of new institutions that nurture science and technology, and enable us to find a beneficial equation with the awesome power of nature.”

We at NSS could not agree more. At the heart of Dr. Kalam’s vision was an international initiative to harvest the power of the sun and transmit it to Earth, what he called a “Global Energy Technology Initiative for Harvesting Energy from Space.” Dr. Kalam asked what vision could be “greater than any other vision so far envisioned by humanity?  … Clean energy from space solar power for 24×7.” NSS will pick up the torch and carry on his vision.

Dr. Kalam believed that space solar power was the key to a livable planet and to the elimination of man-made green house gasses. The scale of his vision for the benefit of humanity was vast — he believed that by 2052, India alone could have 108 satellites delivering 544 gigawatts of green power, doubling India’s per-capita GDP and avoiding 66 million tonnes of carbon emissions. To that end, Dr. Kalam proposed that the US, India, and other spacefaring nations invest $4 billion dollars in the next five years for a feasibility study and for development of the necessary technology to realize economical space solar power.

Dr. Kalam was a towering spacefaring advocate. His passing is a deep loss to NSS. Loved and admired by the masses of India, he was loved and admired by us as well. The legacy of Dr. Kalam’s writings will form a permanent part of the online NSS library. We were honored to work with him and to present him with our 2013 Wernher von Braun Memorial Award for leading India into space and for being a global leader in space development. He will be missed terribly by all around the world who share a common vision of humanity’s future in space.

Ad Astra, Dr. Kalam.

Dr. Kalam receives Wernher von Braun Memorial Award from Mark Hopkins at ISDC 2013.

Kalam Dream

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 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 ( 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 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.

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.

International SunSat Design Competition

International SunSat Design CompetitionSunSat Design is an international competition intended to accelerate the conceptualization, manufacture, launch and operation of the next-generation satellites that will collect energy in space and deliver it to Earth as a non-polluting source of electrical power.

The purpose of the SunSat Design initiative is to move space solar power out of the research labs and onto the public agenda. This is being done by virtual story-telling and networking on a global basis, explaining what space solar power is and how and why it will become the ultimate renewable energy resource for Planet Earth.

The strategy is to link global scientific communities with university-based (and other) digital media labs for the purposes of advancing knowledge of space-based solar power satellites (SunSats) and illustrating their many Earth-energy applications.

Winning designs are high-impact digital art, supported by credible science, engineering and business plans, that best promote media understanding and public acceptance of a path forward in using space satellites to deliver energy on-demand to any and all places on Earth.

Registration for the competition is now open, and team enrollments will be taken until January 31, 2015. Deadline for submission of completed designs and supporting documentation is March 27, 2015. Winners will be announced and their “Creative Visualizations” will be shown and celebrated in May 2015 at ISDC-Toronto.

See the International SunSat Design Competition website for more information.

The winners of the 2014 competition were announced at the ISDC-Los Angeles in May 2014, with six teams honored. Three of these were given cash prizes. The first-place award was $10,000 and there were two second-place awards of $5,000 presented at ISDC-Los Angeles. The three top designs have been published in the Online Journal of Space Communication:

The SunSat Competition is an initiative of the Online Journal of Space Communication in partnership with the Society of Satellite Professionals International, the National Space Society, and the Ohio University GRID Lab.

3rd Space Solar Power International Student and Young Professional Design Competition

The Space Generation Advisory Council is pleased to announce its partnership with the International Astronautical Federation’s Space Power Committee (SPC) to organize and run the 3rd Space Solar Power International Student and Young Professional Design Competition.

The competition aims to challenge entrants to submit a technical paper for a new and innovative technical concept for Space Solar Power (SSP). SSP, in its typical implementation and for the purposes of this competition, is the idea of transmitting power harvested from the sun in space down to Earth.

The winning entrant will be given up to USD 2000 to cover travel costs to Toronto, Canada, to present their paper at the 2014 Space Generation Congress (SGC) and to present a poster at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC).


ISDC Keynote address will focus on Space Solar Power

SPACE Canada (Solar Power Alternative for Clean Energy), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of solar energy from space, is sponsoring a dinner at the International Space Development Conference (ISDC 2014), the yearly conference of the National Space Society (NSS).

The dinner will be held on Saturday, May 17 from 7:00-9:30 p.m. PT in the Grand Ballroom at the site of ISDC 2014, the Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel, 6101 West Century Boulevard.  The theme of Saturday evening’s event is “A Space Renaissance Celebration.”

In keeping with SPACE Canada’s mandate to support, encourage and facilitate international dialogue on solar energy from space, John Mankins, President of Artemis Innovation Management Solutions LLC, will deliver the evening’s keynote presentation, “The Case for Space Solar Power.”

Mankins, widely acknowledged as the world’s leading expert on Space Solar Power (SSP), had a 25-year career at NASA.  During that time, he led an $800 million per year R&D program and, for many years, was in charge of NASA’s studies on SSP.

Following Mankins to further discuss SSP will be Mark Hopkins, CEO of the National Space Society and former Rand Corporation Economist.  Hopkins and Dr. Abdul Kalam, former President of India, are working together to establish an international organization to build SSP.

Space Solar Power uses satellites in space to collect the sun’s energy, which is beamed to receivers on the ground and then fed into the power grid like energy produced by conventional power plants.

Mankins and Hopkins will explain how the first economically viable SSP satellite could be built in less than 20 years, followed in rapid succession by additional profitable satellites.  The resulting electricity could be sold at prices below those of competing alternatives such as coal or nuclear.  This premise is based on studies completed recently by such prestigious organizations as the International Academy of Astronautics.

“The sun produces 10 trillion times the amount of energy currently consumed by humanity,” said Hopkins.  “By harvesting a tiny fraction of this energy via SSP, the energy crises would be over.  Humanity would have all of the energy it needs for the foreseeable future.  Further, this energy is renewable and extremely green, producing almost no carbon dioxide and thus greatly mitigating the problem of climate change.  The Earth’s resources are limited.  A successful Space Solar Power program would smash these limits, leading to a prosperous and hopeful future.”

Online registration is currently open for ISDC 2014 with a variety of options, from single day registration passes to full conference registration with meals.  Discounts are provided for youth, full-time students, seniors, and members of NASA Federal Credit Union and the National Space Society and its affiliates.  Visit for complete registration details and discount requirements.  For registration assistance, call 408-736-2363.  For information on NASA Federal Credit Union, visit

New Watershed for Space Solar Power

The Case for Space Solar PowerBook Review: The Case for Space Solar Power, by John C. Mankins

Reviewed by: Paul Werbos, Executive Vice President, National Space Society

If you, like me, are one of those people who really want to do the most you can “to make the dream real,” you need to have a copy of this book on your shelves so that you can read it, reread it, and go back for all the important details. If you could only afford to have one book on your shelves, this should be it.

This book by John Mankins is a major milestone in doing the work required to translate the National Space Society’s general vision into a concrete reality with a viable business case. The author was the leader at NASA of virtually all the useful work on space solar power (SSP) by the US government in the last 25 years, so this book is a unique and authoritative source. Mankins also led the efforts in human and robotic technology in the first round of Bush’s “return to the Moon” program, and this book tells you a lot about what has been going on in those areas as well. In the final section, the book gets deep into concrete business plan options.

Not only does this book provide the blueprint for providing Earth with limitless clean energy, the book also offers a whole new basis for solid, realistic hope that we might succeed after all in the kind of vision which Gerard O’Neill inspired decades ago, where humans settle space in an economically sustainable way, beaming energy to Earth as part of a growing space economy.

Back in the late 1970s, when there was a lot of hope for SSP but the designs were unproven and questionable, many energy experts walked away and never looked back. In the 1990s, Mankins led the NASA Fresh Look work which exposed what was wrong with the old designs, and found new designs that would work but were still too expensive. When John and I worked together in a National Science Foundation study of enabling technologies for SSP in 2002, the most serious life-cycle cost estimates for the best available designs were still about 20 cents per kwh for the electricity. That was still more expensive than the average we pay for electricity generation today (about ten cents), and it required improvements in launch technology which were not then on the horizon.

But now, in this book, Mankins presents a new design concept, SPS-ALPHA (Solar Power Satellite via Arbitrarily Large Phased Array), for which the best guess on cost is only 9 cents per kwh. This year there is also new hope for launch costs, which is a necessary complement to better design and more realistic costs.

The great beauty of SPS-ALPHA is that it relies on a “Lego” kind of approach, building up a huge structure from modules which all weigh less than a ton. This gets rid of the need for heavy lift vehicles, and we can use whatever gets us to space most cheaply.

Some people may be disappointed that Mankins’ plan for SSP does not provide for many humans in space, but that is part of the plan’s strength in reducing cost. The Mankins plan instead shows the way to build up the infrastructure we need in space before we can have a realistic chance to expand human settlement further. If we fulfill that plan, there will be ever more opportunity and need to bring more and more humans along, step by step, perhaps starting out with a kind of swarm city more like a giant expansion of the International Space Station (but with a net positive revenue flow) than like the habitats we will build eventually.

As a matter of honesty, I have to say that the book does not tell us everything we need to know to make the dream a reality. The book tells us a huge amount about competing designs for SSP, some of which might work out better after ALPHA paves the way. But there are other possibilities in the same design space, such as new ideas from the Naval Research Labs about how to handle heat flow issues within the ALPHA approach, and there are additional approaches to reducing launch costs. Nevertheless, Mankins’ book is the game plan for bringing SSP itself to reality. To make a positive difference in the game, we need to have that game plan close at hand, not just on our bookshelves but in all of our strategic thinking for all of the things we can do to help.

The Case for Space Solar Power is available in hard cover and in an inexpensive Kindle edition from Amazon. If you don’t have a Kindle, there are free Kindle reader apps at that enable you to read it on your computer or mobile device.

New Book: The Case for Space Solar Power

A strong case for harnessing space solar power is presented in this ground-breaking new book. Author John C. Mankins, one of the foremost experts in the field, presents his latest research in The Case for Space Solar Power.

The Case for Space Solar Power

The Case for Space Solar Power recounts the history of the space solar power concept and summarizes the many different ways in which it might be accomplished.

Specifically, the book describes in detail a highly promising concept — SPS-ALPHA (Solar Power Satellite by means of Arbitrarily Large Phased Array) — and presents a business case comprising applications in space and markets on Earth. It is possible to begin now with technologies that are already at hand , while developing the more advanced technologies that will be needed to deliver power economically to markets on Earth.

The Case for Space Solar Power lays out a path forward that is both achievable and affordable. Within a dozen years, the first multi-megawatt solar pilot plant could be in operation.

Given that space solar power can transform our future in space, and provide a new source of virtually limitless and sustainable energy to markets across the world, the book poses the question, “Why wouldn’t we pursue space solar power?”

The book is now available both in hardcopy and in an inexpensive Kindle format at If you don’t have a Kindle, there are free Kindle reader apps at that enable you to read it on your computer, tablet, or other mobile device.

Origami used to design ultra-compact solar arrays

BYU engineers have teamed up with a world-renowned origami expert to solve one of space exploration’s greatest (and most ironic) problems: lack of space.

Working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a team of mechanical engineering students and faculty have designed a solar array that can be tightly compacted for launch and then deployed in space to generate power for space stations or satellites.

Applying origami principles on rigid silicon solar panels – a material considerably thicker than the paper used for the traditional Japanese art – the BYU-conceived solar array would unfold to nearly 10 times its stored size.

“It’s expensive and difficult to get things into space; you’re very constrained in space,” said BYU professor and research team leader Larry Howell. “With origami you can make it compact for launch and then as you get into space it can deploy and be large.”

The current project, detailed in the November issue of the Journal of Mechanical Design, is propelled by collaboration between BYU, NASA and origami expert Robert Lang. Howell reached out to Lang as part of landing a $2 million National Science Foundation grant in 2012 to explore the combination of origami and compliant mechanisms. (Joint-less, elastic structures that use flexibility to create movement.)

The particular solar array developed by the group can be folded tightly down to a diameter of 2.7 meters and unfolded to its full size of 25 meters across. The goal is to create an array that can produce 250 kilowatts of power. Currently, the International Space Station has eight solar arrays that generate 84 kilowatts of energy.

Howell said origami through compliant mechanisms is a perfect fit for space exploration: It is low cost and the materials can handle harsh solar environments.

“Space is a great place for a solar panel because you don’t have to worry about nighttime and there are no clouds and no weather,” he said. “Origami could also be used for antennas, solar sails and even expandable nets used to catch asteroids.”