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Testbeds Connecting Space Technology to Terrestrial Renewable Energy

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Alternative Energy Laboratory Experiences

Tagged Division

Energy Conversion and Conservation

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1423.1 - 22.1423.11

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Paper Authors


Narayanan M. Komerath Georgia Institute of Technology

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Professor, Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering

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TESTBEDS CONNECTING SPACE TECHNOLOGY TO TERRESTRIAL RENEWABLE ENERGYThere is a strong commonality of sizing considerations between technologies intended forextraterrestrial in situ resource utilization in the Space program, and terrestrial mass-market microrenewable power generation. The former, however, lack access to a mass market, while the latter findSpace technology solutions to be “too expensive”. Our exploration of the economic and societalrealities in different regions of the world, reported in previous papers, show the obstacles hinderingmarket success. However, recent demonstrations suggest that the public appetite for sophisticatedtechnology all over the world may be underappreciated by technical researchers. Technical innovationsfrom space research are summarized. It is argued that hybrid systems integrating extraction of multipleresources, and adaptable for multiple applications, can break through mass market price barriers. Recentwork by the Micro Renewable Energy Laboratory to develop learning resources and test beds, issummarized.The paper will discuss efforts by our Micro Renewable Energy Systems Laboratory to develop coursespreparing engineers for opportunities at the interface of Space Resource Exploitation technologies andterrestrial micro renewable energy. The realization of the need for such an effort came through thediscussions that led to the “Eighth Continent Chamber of Commerce” project. That effort sought to identifymarkets that would lead to the growth of extraterrestrial ISRU capabilities. The link to the terrestrial energymarketplace was studied, and revealed the need for both public education and technology development thatwould pave the way. A related effort by Komerath [2006] studied the viability of a micro renewable energyarchitecture in the context of the Indian energy market. We concluded that a massively distributedarchitecture comprised of micro generators would be a good way to accelerate renewable power andsecondary economic development in regions where capital and land for large utility plants are scarce.Through this effort it also became clear that the obstacles to developing successful devices were nottechnical but mainly due to lack of comprehension of the system linkages to societal needs and aspirations,and better thinking about ways to fund mass-production ventures. In turn, this led to the creation of twocourses. The first was set at the level of a senior college elective to enable graduate students to receivecredit, but was opened to students from all over our predominantly technological campus, who had reachedjunior level. After one trial of this course, an advanced version at the graduate level was created, withadded sections dealing with space ISRU concepts that would be too difficult to present to undergraduatejuniors. Both courses were thus highly cross-disciplinary, but structured to enable students to conduct anindividual assessment of market realities, then join up in teams of two to conduct a more in-depth technicalproject. At the end each student was to develop a brief business plan based on their project, which would besubmitted in confidence. The structure and teaching experience with the undergraduate course, as well asits implications for opening international collaborations, have been discussed in Komerath [2009, 2010].The policy aspects of micro-renewable energy systems are discussed in Philip et al[2009].Several testbeds have been developed to bring concepts from space research into micro-renewable energysystems. These are being developed by graduate and undergraduate students. The paper will focus on theeducational experience as students work in this deeply multidisciplinary area. ACKNOWLEDGMENTSThe author gratefully acknowledges the support from NASA under the Innovations in AerospaceInstruction initiative, through the “EXTROVERT” project developing resources for cross-disciplinarylearning. Mr. Anthony Springer is the technical monitor. The work reported here includes the contributionsfrom several enthusiastic students at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Komerath, N. M. (2011, June), Testbeds Connecting Space Technology to Terrestrial Renewable Energy Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC.

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