Publications

- April 1, 2021: Vol. 8, Number 4

Beam me down, Scotty: Pentagon and European space-based solar projects making strides

by BBC and CNN

Though it sounds like science fiction, scientists working on behalf of the Pentagon have successfully collected solar energy in outer space and beamed it back to Earth.

A panel the size of a pizza box, known as a photovoltaic radiofrequency antenna module (PRAM), was first launched in May 2020, attached to the Pentagon’s X-37B unmanned drone, to harness light from the sun and convert it to electricity, according to a CNN report.

The Pentagon is not alone in this effort. A BBC report says euro zone scientists are making huge strides in trying to turn space-based power stations into a reality. The European Space Agency has realized the potential of these efforts and is now looking to fund such a project, predicting that the first industrial resource we will get from space is “beamed power,” the BBC reported. In theory, at least, a space-based solar power station could orbit to face the sun 24 hours a day. Because Earth’s atmosphere absorbs and reflects some of the sun’s light, solar cells orbiting above the atmosphere would be capable of receiving more sunlight and producing more energy than earthbound solar farms.

The latest Pentagon experiments show that its 12x12-inch panel is capable of producing about 10 watts of energy for transmission, Paul Jaffe, co-developer of the project, told CNN. That's about enough to power a tablet computer. But the project envisages an array of dozens of panels and, if scaled up, its success could revolutionize both how power is generated and distributed to remote corners of the globe. It could contribute to Earth’s largest grid of power networks, according to Jaffe.

“Some visions have space solar matching or exceeding the largest power plants today — multiple gigawatts — so enough for a city,” Jaffe said.

The unit has yet to actually send power directly back to Earth, the CNN report said, but that technology has already been proven. If the project develops into huge kilometers-wide space solar antennae, it could beam microwaves that would then be converted into fuel-free electricity to any part of the planet at a moment’s notice.

“The unique advantage the solar power satellites have over any other source of power is this global transmissibility,” Jaffe said. “You can send power to Chicago and a fraction of a second later, if you needed, send it instead to London or Brasilia.”

 

The CNN and BBC reports can be read at these respective links: https://cnn.it/30ab0QV and https://bbc.in/3uRE6CL

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