The Instigator
OrionsGambit
Pro (for)
Losing
0 Points
The Contender
bluesteel
Con (against)
Winning
18 Points

"Magical solar power plants in space and ridiculously cheap space elevators."

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/4/2010 Category: Politics
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 2,379 times Debate No: 13913
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (6)
Votes (3)

 

OrionsGambit

Pro

This debate is concerning the viability of Orbital Elevators, their construction and usage, and the potential of using an orbital elevator to harness non-attenuated solar radiation striking Earth's atmosphere for the United States' energy needs. I will be taking the 'Pro/For' side of this debate while my opponent BlueSteel will be taking the 'Com/Against' side of the debate. The debate will cover five rounds, the first round going over each of our positions on the subject. Rounds two through four will go over arguments and counter-argument over our opponents points, and the fifth and final round will be strictly the conclusion of our positions, summarizing our arguments.

An orbital or space elevator is a proposed structure intended to transport material from the surface of a celestial body, particularly Earth, into space. Many variants have been proposed, all of which involve moving the material along a fixed structure instead of using rocket powered spacelaunch. The concept most often refers to a structure that reaches from the surface of the Earth to geostationary orbit (GSO) and a counter-mass beyond.

The use of an orbital elevator would greatly reduce the cost and energy needed to send material and personnel into orbit and beyond. It would provide an easy gateway for humanity to leave the Earth behind and begin settling into habitats off of Earth, expanding and propagating across a wider environment. This would likewise open up a seemingly infinite source of resources for both Earth's population and settlements outside of Earth.

The United States continues for the moment as a leader in technology and strategic dominance, both economically and militarily. However in terms of strategic value, being able to efficiently reach beyond Earth's atmosphere provides the ultimate high ground, and unless the United States is able to reach this pinnacle first or at least at the same time as her rivals, she is going to find herself at a significant disadvantage. No single private entity has the ability to gather the necessary materials, capital, and personnel need for what amounts to as a civilization-level project. As such it should be the prerogative of the United States as a whole to bring this project into fruition.

The most abundant source of energy available to humanity is that created by our local system star, Sol. While used on Earth, solar energy we normally experience is heavily attenuated resulting in only one-thousandth of it actually reaching Earth's surface. Solar panel systems located in orbit above the atmosphere do not experience this attenuation however, allowing more abundant and easier capture. However the cost of transporting solar panel systems into orbit either as a finished product or piecemeal is expensive. Luckily with the use of an orbital elevator this problem is solved.

http://polyvinylcrush.com...
*Artist rendition of Earth with orbital elevator supporting solar collection system around equator.*

The project described would involve a three surface station system, spaced evenly apart on Earth's equator. Each tether would be connected to its brethren by a low orbit ring used for support and minor facilities and a high orbit ring with outward facing solar collection panels. Processing and distribution would take place from the high orbit counter-balance structures which would also house the necessary facilities for other projects, needs, and launching facilities.

Before I go into too much detail, maintaining debate integrity, I will pass the floor onto my opponent. I thank him for excepting this debate, though technically he is the one who challenged me too it. I hope for a civil and informational affair and await a good challenge.

~Meow~
bluesteel

Con

Thanks for the debate OrionsGambit.

==Definitions==

From Princeton's Wordnet, viable means "feasible: capable of being done with means at hand and circumstances as they are" [1]

==Burden of proof==

As pro and instigator, my opponent has the burden of proving that both an orbital elevator and solar power plants in space can be built using current technology ("the means at hand") and under current cost constraints ("circumstances as they are").

Furthermore, my opponent must show that these two products could be provided by the free market. If a new technology needs massive government subsidies, it is, by definition, not commercially viable.

==My case==

C1) Cost of a space elevator

It costs approximately $11,000 per pound to launch something into space (try calculating how much it would cost to launch yourself into space). [2] My opponent's rendition of an orbital elevator ringing the Earth would be prohibitively expensive, accounting for its considerable mass. It would have to be launched on multiple different rockets and assembled in space, which creates a whole slew of other costs. Special astronauts would have to be trained for its construction and special construction machinery would have to be flown into space. Private companies would have to develop their own space shuttles to bring the astronauts into space. Due to its massive cost, a comprehensive analysis done by NASA concluded that an orbital elevator will not be viable for at least another 200 years. [3]

C2) The Cable

One of the greatest technological challenges for a space elevator is making a cable strong enough to lift heavy objects all the way into space, without snapping. The cable would need a tensile strength of 62 Giga-Pascals (according to NASA). [4] The only potential material that can achieve that enormous tensile strength is carbon nanotube (CNT). However, according to CNN Money, CNT is prohibitively expensive and there is not enough worldwide production capacity to produce large quantities of CNT. [5] The CNT would need to be 62,000 miles long to reach space. However, the largest carbon nanotube grown to date is only 18 cm long. [6]

In addition, there is a great degree of debris in space, any of which could collide with the cable and cause it to tear. According to Tom Nugent, Research Director of Liftport Inc, "A potential show-stopper for construction of the space elevator has not yet been adequately addressed. The elastic energy stored in the ribbon is immense, and breakage of a single thread could lead to a cascading failure that would lead to a fatal cut across the entire ribbon width. Freeman Dyson opined that he was doubtful the space elevator could be constructed due to the threat of elastic energy, saying ‘If it tears in one place, it is likely to be a disaster.'" [7]

C3) Cost of solar power plants in space

Physicist Maury Markowitz calculates that it will cost $11 billion just to launch the power stations into space. It will likely cost billions more to assemble the space stations. Solar cells only last for 20 years. Over this time period, Markowitz calculates that a space solar plant would generate $1.75 billion worth of electricity. [8] The power plants don't pay for themselves!

Not only do the space power plants need to start turning a profit, they need be at least as profitable as other options, like coal, nuclear, and ground-based solar plants in order for companies to pursue them. Since it will always be cheaper to build solar plants on the ground rather than in space, space power will never be cost competitive.

C4) Transmission

The problem is how to get the collected power from the space station to Earth. Scientists have tried to develop technology to beam power back and forth from space using lasers, but the technology is only 0.5% efficient, meaning 95.5% of the power is lost in transmission. [9] Jarret Lafleur of Georgia Tech writes, "One widely-examined method of wireless power transmission is microwave power beaming, and one popularized application in the aerospace world has been that of transmitting solar energy from space to fulfill Earth's power needs . . . studies have often found that this application is likely infeasible (and certainly economically unviable) with current technology." [10]

==My opponent's case==

R1) US government should build it

Responses:

1. My opponent says, "No single private entity has the ability to gather the necessary materials, capital, and personnel need for what amounts to as a civilization-level project." In his round 1 he has already conceded that an orbital elevator is not commercially viable.

2. He never proves that the U.S. could afford the project either. We're not exactly flush with cash right now.

3. We can't spend more government funds. According to the NY Times, the recent Obama-GOP deal to extend the Bush tax cuts and unemployment benefits will add $900 billion to the deficit, putting us over the debt limit of $14.3 trillion. The government is literally, by law, not allowed to spend any more money.

4. The GOP would never agree to pass a bill for a space elevator, so this point is moot.

My opponent asserts, "unless the United States is able to reach this pinnacle first or at least at the same time as her rivals, she is going to find herself at a significant disadvantage."

1. The same argument was advanced for why we had to reach the moon – to catch up to the Russians. Space flight to the moon has yet to yield any economic benefits.

2. If other countries built a super-expensive space elevator first, they would be forced to let us use it to try to turn a profit from the ridiculous project.

R2) space power plants

My opponent says: "While used on Earth, solar energy we normally experience is heavily attenuated resulting in only one-thousandth of it actually reaching Earth's surface."

Citation? One-thousandth is a ridiculous exaggeration. My Maury Markowitz evidence says that solar power in space would get roughly four times the power of solar panels on Earth, hardly making it worth the ridiculous cost of putting the panels in space. There is plenty of available land area in the U.S. desert. According to physicist Richard Muller, we could power the entire United States with a single large solar array in the Nevada desert. Smart grid technology is also allowing people to install solar panels on their roofs and sell the power into the local grid. We should focus on implementing cheap solar technology here on Earth rather than on putting ridiculous solar arrays into space.

I look forward to my opponent's response.

==Citations==

[1] http://tinyurl.com...
[2] http://tinyurl.com...
[3] http://tinyurl.com...
[4] http://tinyurl.com...
[5] http://tinyurl.com...
[6] http://tinyurl.com...
[7] http://tinyurl.com...
[8] http://tinyurl.com...
[9] http://tinyurl.com...
[10] http://tinyurl.com...
Debate Round No. 1
OrionsGambit

Pro

OrionsGambit forfeited this round.
bluesteel

Con

Too bad... Extend the BOP and my case - vote con.
Debate Round No. 2
OrionsGambit

Pro

OrionsGambit forfeited this round.
bluesteel

Con

Extend case/BOP, vote con
Debate Round No. 3
OrionsGambit

Pro

OrionsGambit forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
OrionsGambit

Pro

OrionsGambit forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 5
6 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 6 records.
Posted by Chrysippus 6 years ago
Chrysippus
Looking forward to reading the second attempt at this. This one had promise.
Posted by OrionsGambit 6 years ago
OrionsGambit
*sighs* I don't know if I'll get to this in time. As you can see I can't even get time to get on until the wee hours of the morning when I should be asleep. Finals are ridiculous. If I forfeit I apologize, we can restart the debate in a week or so when I'm done with classes.
Posted by bluesteel 6 years ago
bluesteel
Ok cool :)

Look forward to your response.
Posted by OrionsGambit 6 years ago
OrionsGambit
No you don't need to subtract it from your next round. I didn't want to point it out later and be called out for complaining over results. And I don't consider what I commented on in here a counter-argument. It's an attempt at changing the context of the subject that I clearly am not trying to present. If you'd rather me refute it in the debate that's fine, as I said, I was merely pointing out issues regarding the apparent BOP dropped at my feet. I'm continuing the debate either way.
Posted by bluesteel 6 years ago
bluesteel
1) My bad dude. I didn't realize that's what you meant.

If you want, I'll subtract the character count for my rebuttal from my next round (approx 2000 characters).

2) Speaking of conduct . . . do you mind keeping your arguments against my case inside the actual debate?
Posted by OrionsGambit 6 years ago
OrionsGambit
Two things.

1.) You've already broken conduct with your first round post.

"The debate will cover five rounds, the first round going over each of our positions on the subject. Rounds two through four will go over arguments and counter-argument over our opponents points, and the fifth and final round will be strictly the conclusion of our positions, summarizing our arguments."

You didn't wait and immediately began attacking my position on the subject.

2.) "Furthermore, my opponent must show that these two products could be provided by the free market. If a new technology needs massive government subsidies, it is, by definition, not commercially viable."

I fail to see and contend that I do not need to show that any products need to be provided by the free market and that new and/or existing technology assisted through government subsidies retains the projects viability. I clearly stated in my position that it would be a project of the United States as a whole.

Either way I am continuing this debate, however I need to point out the two above issues.
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by RoyLatham 6 years ago
RoyLatham
OrionsGambitbluesteelTied
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Total points awarded:06 
Reasons for voting decision: It is not possible to win by forfeiting. Con did the research and argued well. Pro had some counter arguments
Vote Placed by Chrysippus 6 years ago
Chrysippus
OrionsGambitbluesteelTied
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Vote Placed by LaissezFaire 6 years ago
LaissezFaire
OrionsGambitbluesteelTied
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Total points awarded:06