A top scientific panel has opposed as too costly any plans for a futuristic space project that would send 60 satellites, each about half the size of Manhattan, into orbit to generate electricity for earth.
The satellite power system, while technically feasible, would cost an estimated $3 trillion over the next decade, a figure more than four times the current federal budget, according to the panel. it also said that the cost of the electricity produced would be much higher than electric power produced by other methods.
The panel, headed by physicist Dale R. Corson, president emeritus of National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, an institution set up to advise the government.
Corson said in an interview Thursday that no member of the committee dissented from the panel's findings.
"The idea has been getting increasingly serious consideration over the last decade, leading last year to a cautiously favorable report from the Department of Energy," the panel said.
The report cited by the panel was based on a three-year study sponsored by the Department of Energy with the assistance of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Spokesmen for the two agencies said that they had not had an opportunity to read the National Academy of Sciences' report and could not comment on its findings.
The plan calls for 3-by-5-mile satellites to beam converted solar energy to receiving stations on earth. The receiving stations, one for each of the 60 satellites, would measure six by 10 miles in area. These stations would turn the microwaves beamed from space into 300 billion watts of electricity.
The committee said the system would be "by far the largest, most costly and most complex undertaking, civil or military, ever attempted."
The committee listed additional problems for such a project. It said, for example, that this system would interfere with radio communications on earth and with optical and radio astronomy.