Bangalore: India and the US should explore the feasibility of a space-based solar power (SBSP) programme with the ultimate aim of putting in place a commercially viable system by 2025, a report by a defence ministry funded think tank says.
There is, however, a catch. India would first have to accede to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) before the system is put in place, says the report that has been prepared by Peter Garretson, a US Air Force lieutenant colonel on a sabbatical as an international fellow at the New Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA).
Noting that SBSP can be "the next major step in the Indo-US strategic partnership", the 174-page report says the launch of such a potentially revolutionary programme can begin with a joint statement by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President Barak Obama during the latter`s visit to New Delhi in November.
Besides helping to "solve the linked problems of energy security, development and climate change", the SBSP will provide an opportunity for India to use its successful space programme while shaping a future peaceful space regime, Garretson said.
He has proposed a three-tiered programme, moving from basic technology and capacity building to a multi-lateral demonstrator and ultimately to an international commercial public-private-partnership entity to supply commercial power in the 2025 timeframe.
The report concludes that SBSP "does appear to be a good fit for the US domestic, Indian domestic and bilateral agendas, and there are adequate political space and precursor agreements to begin a bilateral program".
Expanding on the three-stage plan, Garretson says an initial five-year $10-30 million programme will develop contributing technologies and build a competent work force culminating in a roadmap for a demonstration prototype.
A second, $10 billion, 10-year phase will see the formation of an international consortium to construct a sub-scale space solar power system that can directly be scaled up by industry. The final stage will entail India-US leadership to set up an international for-profit consortium along the lines of the INTELSAT model to address energy security and carbon mitigation concerns.
"The overall program goal must be to enable, by 2025, space-based solar power as a viable economic replacement for fossil fuel energy, and second, to position the US and Indian technical and industrial bases to enjoy a competitive edge in what is expected to be a significant and profitable market," the report says.
Garretson says that the US and India have demonstrated via a number of recent steps that they are ready for a deeper partnership, inclusive of sensitive and strategic technology in space and energy.
"An international SBSP demo project is within reach of present engineering and mega science budgets, and can be done with existing launch vehicles," he says.
From the US side, the programme can be managed out of the Department of State`s Office of Ocean Environment and Science with funds coming from the Department of Energy`s Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy. On the Indian side, the report says, the high-level oversight can be provided by the Prime Minister`s Council on Climate Change.
According to the report, such a programme linking the technical bases of the world`s largest democracies might be a way out of India`s (and the world`s) climate-energy dilemma.
"It will also become one of the grandest and most ambitious humanitarian and environmentalist causes that will be sure to excite a generation as did the Apollo program that put a man on the moon," the report says.
"If there is a desire to pursue simultaneous development of low cost access to orbit, then the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) assurance document must be signed (by India)," the report says.
India has thus far resolutely declined to sign the MTCR, terming it discriminatory.
It is also important that direct engagement with United Nations governance bodies will be required, even before the demonstration stage, "to cope with the significantly increased traffic to and from and in space", the report says.