The project could beam microwaves that would then be converted into fuel-free electricity, which can be distributed to any part of the planet at just a moment's notice.
Scientists working for the United States’ Pentagon are working on a solar panel that could send electricity from space back to any point on Earth. The panel, which is the size of a pizza box, is designed as a prototype for a future system.
The Photovoltaic Radiofrequency Antenna Module (PRAM), as the panel is called, was first launched in May 2020. It was attached to the X-37B unmanned drone with the purpose of harnessing light from the sun to convert to electricity. The drone looped the Earth every 90 minutes.
Light in space does not pass through the atmosphere and retains the energy of the blue waves. The panel’s job is to make the best use of the light, which is more powerful than the sunlight that pierces through Earth.
The 12×12-inch panel is capable of producing about 10 watts of energy for transmission, as latest experiments show. This is enough to charge a tablet computer. But the Pentagon project wants to use an array of dozens of panels and if scaled up, could prove revolutionary in terms of how power is generated and distributed to remote corners of the planet.
According to Paul Jaffe, a co-developer of the project, it could contribute to the Earth’s largest grid networks.
“Some visions have space solar matching or exceeding the largest power plants today — multiple gigawatts — so enough for a city,” he said.
The technology has already been proven, but for now, the unit has yet to actually send power directly back to Earth. Imagine if the project expands to huge kilometers-wide space solar antennae – it could beam microwaves that would then be converted into fuel-free electricity, which can be distributed to any part of the planet at just a moment’s notice.
The PRAM is tested in space-like conditions at the lab using thermal vacuum chamber.
Jaffe said: “The unique advantage the solar power satellites have over any other source of power is this global transmissibility. You can send power to Chicago and a fraction of a second later, if you needed, send it instead to London or Brasilia.”
Economic viability is an issue, according to Jaffe. He said that building hardware for space is indeed expensive. But he also cited the advantages of building into space.
“On Earth, we have this pesky gravity, which is helpful in that it keeps things in place, but is a problem when you start to build very large things, as they have to support their own weight.”
Only a few details were revealed about the mission of the US’ X-37B space plane since the Pentagon has been keeping it a secret.
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