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Context of '2001: Japan Announces Plans to Build Solar Energy Satellite System'

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1883: Inventor Describes Selenium Solar Cells

American inventor Charles Fritts describes the first solar cells made from selenium wafers. Fritts hopes that his cells might compete with the coal-fired power plants of Thomas Edison, but Fritts’s cells operate at less than one percent efficiency, far below the threshold for practical applicability. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file; American Physical Society, 2013]

Entity Tags: Charles Fritts

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

Semiconductor researcher Russell Shoemaker Ohl of Bell Laboratories is poring over silicon samples, one of which has a crack in the middle. Electrical current flows through the cracked sample when exposed to light. The crack, likely formed when the sample was made, actually marks the boundary between regions containing different levels of impurities, so one side is positively “doped” and the other negatively doped. Ohl has inadvertently created a “p-n junction,” the basis of a solar cell. When an excess positive charge builds up on one side of the p-n barrier, and a similar excess charge builds up on the other, negatively charged side, an electric field is created. The cell can be hooked up into a circuit, and incoming photos striking the cell can “kick” electrons loose and start a current flowing. Ohl patents the solar cell, which operates at about one percent efficiency. [American Physical Society, 2013]

Entity Tags: Bell Laboratories, Russell Shoemaker Ohl

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

Bell Laboratories scientists Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller and Gerald Pearson develop the silicon photovoltaic cell, launching the US’s photovoltaic technology industry. The PV cell is the first to convert enough solar energy to run everyday electrical equipment. Chapin had been working on magnetic materials at Bell Labs, and wanted to develop a source of power for telephone systems in remote humid locations, where dry cell batteries degraded rapidly. Chapin determined that solar energy was the most promising of the alternative energy sources available, but found the existing selenium solar cells (see 1883 and 1940) far too inefficient. Fuller and Pearson were working together to control the properties of semiconductors by introducing impurities. When the two introduce gallium and lithium to a piece of silicon, they create a p-n junction, allowing electrical current to be generated. The silicon cell produces far more electricity than they had anticipated. Pearson informed Chapin to concentrate on silicon cells, and the three work together to improve the properties of the silicon cells. Eventually, the three use a silicon cell with boron and arsenic impurities to create a satisfactory solar cell, and link several together to form what they call a “solar battery.” Their battery produces energy at about a six percent efficiency rating. Bell publicly demonstrates the new battery by using it to power a toy Ferris wheel and a radio transmitter. The New York Times writes that the silicon solar cell “may mark the beginning of a new era, leading eventually to the realization of one of mankind’s most cherished dreams—the harnessing of the almost limitless energy of the sun for the uses of civilization.” Bell Labs later produces a PV cell that achieves 11% efficiency. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file; American Physical Society, 2013]

Entity Tags: Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, Gerald Pearson, Bell Laboratories

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

1955: Western Electric Sells PV Licenses

Western Electric begins selling commercial licenses for silicon photovoltaic (PV) technologies (see 1954). Some successful products include PV-powered dollar bill changers and devices that decode computer punch cards and tape. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Western Electric

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

US Signal Corps Laboratories scientist William Cherry discusses developing photovoltaic (PV) cells (see 1954) for proposed orbiting Earth satellites with RCA Labs’ Paul Rappaport and Joseph Loferski. Two years later, the Signal Corps Laboratories successfully fabricates a new silicon PV cell more resistant to radiation and thusly more useful for space-based energy generation. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Joseph Loferski, Paul Rappaport, US Signal Corps Laboratories, William Cherry

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

The US’s Vanguard I space satellite uses a small solar array, generating less than one watt, to power its radios. Later that same year, the Explorer III, Vanguard II, and Sputnik-3 satellites all use PV-powered systems (see 1956-1958) to power its systems. While commercial uses for solar energy in the United States (see 1955) is less than successful during this period, silicon solar cells become a mainstay of satellites and subsequent space exploration vehicles. In 1962, Bell Telephone Laboratories launches the first telecommunications satellite, Telstar. This satellite generates 14 watts of electricity via its PV cells. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file; Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, 2013]

Entity Tags: Bell Laboratories

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

The first large commercial production of selenium and silicon PV cells (see 1955) begins at Silicon Sensors, Inc. of Dodgeville, Wisconsin. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Silicon Sensors, Inc.

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

An ‘exo-atmospheric kill vehicle,’ or EKV, part of the ‘Brilliant Pebbles’ space-based missile defense system.An ‘exo-atmospheric kill vehicle,’ or EKV, part of the ‘Brilliant Pebbles’ space-based missile defense system. [Source: Claremont Institute]In his State of the Union address, President Bush announces a drastic revision of the controversial Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or “Star Wars”) missile defense system (see March 23, 1983). The system, still in its research and development stages, will no longer attempt to protect the majority of the US population from nuclear assault. Now, Bush says, SDI will be retooled to “provid[e] protection against limited ballistic missile strikes—whatever their source.” The system, called Global Protection Against Limited Strikes (GPALS), will include some 1,000 space-based “Brilliant Pebbles” interceptors, 750 to 1,000 long-range ground-based interceptors at six sites, space-based and mobile sensors, and transportable ballistic missile defenses. [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008] The concept is based on an earlier proposal by nuclear weapons experts Edward Teller, Lowell Wood, and Gregory Canavan of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who came up with the idea of a “Smart Rocks” defense system based on thousands of small rocket-propelled canisters in Earth orbit, each capable of ramming an incoming ballistic missile and exploding it outside the lower atmosphere. The “Smart Rocks” concept was one component of the original SDI concept, but was retooled, upgraded, and renamed “Brilliant Pebbles” to be the main component of the program. It will never be deployed, and will be defunded entirely during the first year of the Clinton administration. [Claremont Institute, 12/24/2007]

Entity Tags: Gregory Canavan, Clinton administration, Brilliant Pebbles, Edward Teller, George Herbert Walker Bush, Global Protection Against Limited Strikes, Lowell Wood, Strategic Defense Initiative, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

US Space Command publishes its brochure, Vision for 2020, in which it summarizes its ambitions for weaponizing space. The report states that US Space Command views the militarization and weaponization of space as a means “to protect military and commercial national interests and investment….” Its back cover features a picture of a satellite striking a target in Iraq with a laser. [US Space Command, 2/1997 pdf file; Foreign Service Journal, 4/2001]

Timeline Tags: US Military

North Korea launches a Taepodong-1 (TD-1) ballistic missile eastward over Japan. The second stage of the missile splashes down in Pacific waters well past Japan. Though the missile was intended to launch a satellite into Earth orbit (a task in which it failed, though the North Koreans will claim otherwise), the test flight also proves that North Korea could strike Japan and other regional neighbors with nuclear missiles if it so desires. It could also reach Hawaii and the outskirts of Alaska with a small payload, though nothing large enough to be a nuclear device. The test alarms the US, and catches the US intelligence community somewhat unawares, though US intelligence had earlier predicted that North Korea would be able to deploy some sort of ICBM. The TD-1 is a significant development over its earlier single-stage Scud C and Nodong single-stage missiles. Another area of concern is North Korea’s stated willingness to sell its missile and nuclear technology to other countries; any missile improvements it successfully develops are likely to spread to other weapons programs. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 173; Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, 1/12/2008] According to authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, the missile’s basic design is similar to the Hatf range produced by Pakistan, which itself was based on the Chinese M-11 missile. The US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) therefore thinks this is further evidence of military co-operation between Pakistan and North Korea. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 277, 515]

Entity Tags: Defense Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: US International Relations, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

The Space and Missile Systems Center announces that Lockheed Martin and Hughes Space & Communications Company have each been awarded a contract in connection with the development of the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) program. The two contracts are worth a total of $22 million. [US Air Force, 8/24/1999] According to a 2004 description of the program, Advanced Extremely High Frequency system is “a joint service satellite communications system that provides near-worldwide, secure, survivable, and jam-resistant communications for high-priority military ground, sea, and air assets.” The system will consist of three satellites, costing approximately $477 million each, that will be capable of “servicing up to 4,000 networks and 6,000 terminals” 24 hours a day. The first satellite is set to be launched in 2007. [US Air Force, 4/2004] The military will soon develop another system, Transformational Communications Satellite (TSAT), which promises to be much faster. AEHF will serve to provide a “smooth transition” from the military’s current system to TSAT. [US Congress, 2/25/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Lockheed Martin Corporation, Hughes Space & Communications Company

Timeline Tags: US Military

Japan’s National Space Development Agency (NASDA) announces plans to develop a satellite-based solar power system that will beam energy back to Earth via a laser. The laser will “feed” the collected energy to an airship cruising 12 miles above the ground, which would then transmit the energy to a ground-based station. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: National Space Development Agency (Japan)

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

The Rand Corporation publishes a report reviewing the potential to weaponize space. The authors identify four main classes of space weapons that could be developed in the future. The study does not argue in favor of or against the development of these weapons, nor does it address any other issues related to US space policy. Directed-energy weapons, one type of weapon profiled in the report, could destroy targets in space or on the ground. An example of this type of weapon would be a laser. A major hindrance to the development direct-energy weapons is that they would require millions of watts of power. Kinetic-energy weapons could be used against missile targets in space or high up in the Earth’s atmosphere. Its destructive force would come solely from the combination of mass and velocity. Space-based kinetic energy weapons would be launched from space against targets the Earth’s surface, such as large ships, tall buildings, and fuel tanks. The last type of weapons reviewed in the study is space-based conventional weapons that would also be used to attack land targets. The weapons could use radio-frequency or high-power-microwave munitions to destroy their targets. [Space (.com), 5/15/2002; Preston et al., 10/1/2002]

Entity Tags: RAND Corporation

Timeline Tags: US Military

In a press release, Kyocera Solar announces the opening of the Arlington Valley Solar Energy II (AV Solar II) installation in Maricopa County, Arizona, near the Hassayampa Substation. Kyocera, one of the world’s largest producers of solar photovoltaic (PV—see 1954) modules and systems, operates the facility in conjunction with LS Power and the state of Arizona; Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ) is on hand to officially open the facility. Block 1 is online; Blocks 2 through 5 are expected to be complete by the end of the year. Kyocera Solar vice president Steve Hill says: “Today’s opening of the AV Solar II mega-installation marks a major milestone in Kyocera’s four decades of manufacturing high-quality, long-lasting solar modules. We’re proud to provide US-made products to this utility-scale installation, which adds to the mega-installations around the world showcasing Kyocera’s unrivaled solar solutions including a 204MW project in Thailand and a 70MW installation in Kagoshima, Japan.” When complete, the facility will be one of the largest solar PV installations in North America and will provide 127 megawatts of power for the surrounding community. Brewer tells the press: “Thanks to our strategic location, pro-business climate, skilled workforce, and strong incentives for solar development, Arizona is a national leader in the solar industry. As an Arizona-based company, Kyocera Solar understands how critical this industry is to a secure economic and renewable energy future.” [Business Wire, 5/1/2013]

Entity Tags: Steve Hill, Arlington Valley Solar Energy II, Jan Brewer, Kyocera Solar, LS Power

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

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