Solar-Powered Gen1 Enterprise Revisited

A major challenge with the Gen1 Enterprise is that the radiators get very big due to having gigawatts of waste heat. To keep the of the radiators to a manageable size, engine power must be kept low which slows travel times around the solar system. A new thought is this: Why not just make the radiators completely remote like shown in the picture above? They could be towed far behind the Enterprise using long cables and pipes. The waste heat could be transferred to the radiators by circulating fluid through the pipes, and the Enterprise would retain its conventional look.

But, if you think a remote radiator is viable and acceptable, this leads to another idea. Once you have a giant set of panels of some type towed behind the Enterprise – why not make them solar panels instead of radiator panels? I have said before that a solar-powered Enterprise is not viable because solar panels mounted on the Enterprise would be too big. But once the solar panels are remote to the Enterprise – they can be as big as needed to achieve the 2.5 gigawatts of electrical power needed by the Enterprise.

Having remote solar panels would also allow them to be always oriented toward the sun. If they are mounted on the Enterprise instead, having all solar panels always facing the sun is more difficult.

Some people may object to the the idea of a big array of anything being towed behind the Gen1 Enterprise. But the solar panels could be say a mile behind the ship and nearly out of sight and also beyond where any of high temperature propellant being expelled from the ship’s main engines would bother them.

Furthermore, we may need to get used to the idea of big arrays of various types being towed through space behind future gigawatt-class spaceships. For ships traveling through interstellar space that one day leave the solar system, like a Gen3 Enterprise, there is a valuable commodity residing in interstellar space. Interstellar space is not simply a vacuum.  Instead, there are typically a few million scattered atoms per cubic meter of volume. This is mostly hydrogen, and hydrogen can be used by spacecraft for many things including as propellant of the ship’s main engines. Thus it makes sense to be constantly collecting these random atoms during spaceflights through interstellar space, and large scoops of some type will be needed to do the job. Think of these scoops as being needed to help create a maximally self-sustaining spacecraft.

If you believe that future large spacecraft will be routinely collecting atoms in interstellar space, then you can imagine big scoops being used to do this. The Bussard ramjet is one proposed ship with a big scoop. Whatever the ship type, in essence  the ship’s scoop will serve to perform a 24/7 mining operation to collect stray atoms in space.

So for towing a big array of solar cells behind the Enterprise, some questions to ponder are: (1) Can it be made to look okay? (2) Is this a better way to go, or should we stay nuclear? (3) Can the panels really avoid the propellant exhaust?

This entry was posted in Gen1 Enterprise, Nuclear Power, Radiators, Solar Power. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Solar-Powered Gen1 Enterprise Revisited

  1. Mitchz95 says:

    Even if it is a mile behind, it would probably ruin the look (especially if the ship is a mile long itself!). I think flat fin radiators on the nacelles (like in your August 14th blog post) are much better in terms of making the ship look good.

    • Nuclearman says:

      There is also the matter of figuring out how to allow the ship to turn around to slow down. Lots of potential for breaking things when towing.

  2. DJ Maginity says:

    How it looks?! Really?!! I believe we should concentrate more on how it WORKS!
    If it works, it’s beautiful. Aesthetics are of the last things to be considered. Think of the first automobiles, the first airplane, they looked little like those of today. And so what if it doesn’t look like the Enterprise of the Star Trek series. Remember, Zefrom Cochran’s ship looked nothing like the Enterprise! Right? And how many iterations of NCC-1701 were there? (I recall there was “A” through “D”) so it doesn’t really HAVE TO look like the Enterprise ya know. Just sayin’

    • BTE-Dan says:

      A basic premise of this website is that the world’s first gigawatt-class supership with 1g artificial gravity should look like the USS Enterprise. Humans go beyond earth for inspirational reasons, nothing more. It’s not for science – probes are a lot cheaper way to advance science. So if our journeys beyond earth are all about inspiration, it’s logical that the ship to carry us on these inspirational journeys will be about inspiration too. And no space ship would inspire people more than seeing the USS Enterprise being built and then put into service.

  3. Lord Penguin says:

    The Enterprise might not have to tow anything. Building several smaller, separate ships, or possibly hundreds, to travel with the Enterprise could solve multiple problems, including solar power. The ships could orient large solar panels for maximum efficiency, rather than relying on the position of the enterprise, and could dock at the Enterprise for repair. These ships could double as exploratory vehicles, such as for imaging nearby asteroids before returning to repair and refuel, and protect the main ship from asteroids as well. Boiling hot nuclear reactor coolant can be taken away from the Enterprise to cool off and generate thermoelectricity, and returned cold for reuse. They could be more easily upgraded and safer; failures on those ships would generally not damage the Enterprise (if they blow up a kilometer from the ship, minimal damage is inflicted compared to an explosion on the ship). On top of all that, the ships preserve the look of the Enterprise, but I think their functional purposes are more important than their aesthetic.

    The only problem I see with that design would be cost. It might even save money compared to other solutions, especially considering that relatively small ships have been researched much more than large ones and thoroughly tested on Earth and in space, but I can’t help but think that it’ll be more expensive (but, in my opinion, worth it).

  4. Grand Lunar says:

    Interesting alternative.
    Of course, the array would be huge, and that adds mass, which in turn means you need more time to overcome inertia.
    And power is not consistent; do we design it for 2.5 GW production in Earth’s orbit or at Mars’s?
    The latter would be even larger, I think.

    A towed radiator for a nuclear system might be smaller than a solar array large enough to produce 2.5 GW.
    Perhaps someone knows the mathmatics to figure this stuff out.

    • Hello grand Lunar,

      The solar radiation at Mars is about 1/3 of at Earth Orbit, or 590 W/m2. For 2,5 GW, at 33% efficiency of conversion, the array would be about 12 million m2, or 3,5 km x 3,5 km (2 miles x 2 miles). If we guess a weight of 1kg per m2, (about 0,2 pounds per square foot) it would weight about 12 thousand tons, about the same weight as BTE Dan has allocated for the nuclear engines and radiators. So the weight might be similar. However at Earth orbit the power would be 7,5 GW! We might be able to reduce the travel time to about 2 months.

      The towed radiator would be about 300 000 m2 for 700K, or about 40 times smaller.

      The Valkyrie starship, in Avatar, uses a towed design. It angles the engines very slightly, and puts the load far behind, so the jets pass on either side of the load. If the solar array was 100 km behind the Enterprise, the angle would be something like 1:50. The engines would lose about 2% efficiency.
      Regards

      Michel Lamontagne

      • Grand Lunar says:

        With those numbers regarding mass, this idea seems workable after all (I wasn’t so sure about it).
        And imagine what it would look like!

        Given the possibility that exists with SEP combined with Hall effects thrusters, this idea may be winner for those that fear nuclear options. It might also open up room for propellant and supplies.

        I imagine to make this idea happen we ought to consider solar array production from lunar material, simply so it doesn’t all come from Earth’s gravity well.

  5. Brian Waller says:

    I think a solar power Enterprise will work. That is what I am going to do on my enterprise, USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D, in which I have the blueprints for. In my plan I will cover the whole top of the ship with solar panels for powering the ship and engine.

    All and all I think a solar power enterprise is a good idea. That is my option.

  6. DigitalGalaxy says:

    It would probably ruin the look, but if you wanted you could simply mount the solar cells on solid anchors off to the side so they would not hit the propellant trail. There would be no air resistance to tear them off. But they WOULD get slammed by micro-metor a lot, rendering them less effective over time.

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