Thursday, November 4, 2010

Kalam-NSS space-based energy initiative

     Will this be one of those dream projects?  Or will it ever become a reality?  This is a big question.

     Honestly, right now it seems to me a sci-fi. But, then what were sci fis yesterday, have become a reality today. Take for example Jules Verne's prediction about a human landing on the moon. When he announced it, it was not taken seriously. But, his forecast became a reality in July 1969. So hopefully, even this age-old dream of APJ Abdul Kalam should hopefully become a reality someday,

     What is this project?  Harnessing space-based solar power for the benefit of people on earth. Some years ago. I recall interacting with an aerospace scientist, Raghu Gopalaswamy, about his pet project--the hyperplane which will be used for developing space-based solar power. I asked him if his programme will be implemented. And what was his answer? ``I do not get involved in projects which will not become a reality.'' This was several years ago, and till today this project ,as far as I know, has not gone beyond conducting feasibility studies and keeping some retired scientists busy!!  What has Gopalaswamy to say about this?

     Now once again an effort is being made to move the project from labs dto reality. And this has happened  48 hours prior to the arrival of President Barack Obama in India, On Thursday India and the US decided to join hands on a space-based energy initiative which will help in turning both the countries into net energy exporters.

    And the main driving force behind this new Indo-Us project is none other than former Indian President, APJ Abdul Kalam, an one-time staunch critic of the US, and the National Space Society (NSS), a non-profit US-based space organization, having chapters all over the world including India. The initiative was announced on Thursday at a media briefing held at the National Press Club in Washington in which Kalam participated from New Delhi, and current director of Isro Satellite Centre, T.K.Alex, took part from Bangalore. Good, we atleast know what the NSS is doing in Washington!

    Thanks to my good friend, Pradeep Mohandas, secy of India chapter of Moon Society, I watched the webcast of the Washington media interaction. Somehow I got the impression what while everyone was enthusiastic, the participants were, however. unable to provide details or plans about this ambitions project. But then let us not forget that Kalam had suggested the ida of ``India embracing the moon,'' during the Chandrayaan-1 mission, and it became a reality through the Moon Impact Probe This probe,described as Kalam's baby, was the first to discover water and carbon diaxide on the moon. So I am confident that when Kalam suggests a project, he is not saying it merely for the sake of saying it. He means what he is saying. Therefore, I am optimistic that this space energy project will become a reality.

     Known as the Kalam-National Space Society initiative, the new space energy mission envisages harvesting solar power in space for the benefit of people on earth. Alex has been designated as the principal investigator of the project from the India side. Kalam told the Washington media that a team from Isro has been formed to carry out a feasibility study relating to this project.

     He said that he has discussed the programme with Isro chairman, K.Radhakrishnan, who asked him to take the idea forward. Referring to the Manmohan Singh-Obama summit in New Delhi on Sunday, Kalam said that both were concerned leaders who were ``interested in energy-related issues and energy independence.’’

     Kalam said that it was a 15-year-project and the main challenge was evolving methods to transmit solar power from space to earth and distributing it. In order to make it economical, he said that the cost of launching a spacecraft, which was currently 20,000 dollars a kg, has to come down to 2000 dollars a kg--- a view also shared by Alex.

     Regarding funding, Kalam said the plan has to be marketed to the political system. ``I can help in that area,’’ he said. According to him with space solar power conflicts between G20 and G8 countries will be reduced and differences among nations will be reduced.

    Alex made it clear that the scheme cannot be implemented by any single organisation, but has to be a multinational effort. ``A preliminary plan has been worked out at Isro and I have some idea of the work that is going on other countries. Good work is in progress in Japan and we should look for like-minded countries,’’ Isro’s satellite centre chief said.

   John Markins, an expert in space-based solar power, said that Nasa is equipped with the relevant technology to develop this project. ``But it will not participate in formulating in international policies,’’ he added


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