Physicist Wants to Harness Energy From the Moon

ByABC News
April 19, 2002, 2:48 PM

April 22 -- David Criswell has been waiting for an energy crisis.

It's not that he particularly wants an energy shortage, it's just he's excited about an alternative: Drawing solar energy from the moon.

"Oil in Alaska is nothing compared to what you'd get from the moon," said Criswell, a physicist at the University of Houston Institute for Space Systems, who has been promoting his idea steadily for about 20 years. "This kind of energy would be available as long as the sun shines and the moon is up there."

Plugging Into the Moon

In this month's issue of The Industrial Physicist, Criswell lays out his plan to build solar panels and micro transmitters from lunar materials and begin beaming solar energy to Earth.

Solar panels would convert the sun's rays to energy and transmit it through buried wires to microwave generators. The generators would then convert the energy into harmless microwave beams, which would be aimed at collecting stations on Earth. At Earth, they'd be converted back into electricity.

The 20-40 lunar power bases would be stationed at the east and west edges of the moon so one or the other would always be sunlit as the moon travels around the Earth. Earth-orbiting satellites and mirrors could also help aim the beams towards the terrestrial antennas. None of the moon-based solar units, he says, would be visible with a naked eye from Earth.

"It would be like having an electric cord stretched across the solar system," he said.

Sending material to space is not cheap, so Criswell has studied lunar rocks collected during the Apollo mission years and determined that 90 percent of the aluminum, silicon and glass needed to build solar power plants can be found on the moon.

Still, the initial costs of building the lunar solar power stations remain steep. Criswell estimates it would take about $15 billion to launch the project and then about $135 billion more before the investment begins to break even.

"It would require the efforts of many nations and a treaty to do it," he said.