Navy's Orbiting Solar Panels To Beam Energy Down To Earth
The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) is quietly working on technology that will let it capture solar power in orbit - and then project it back down to Earth, to specific locations where it is needed.
(US Navy seeks solar power)
Not only would space solar potentially save the Pentagon buckets of cash, but it could simplify military deployments. Fuel tankers would no longer have to reach remote or volatile areas, and missions could run longer without having to return to base to refuel.
So far, NRL has built and tested two different prototypes of what they call a “sandwich” module, named for a design innovation that packs all the electrical components between two square panels. The top side is a photovoltaic panel that absorbs the Sun’s rays. An electronics system in the middle converts the energy to a radio frequency, and the bottom is an antenna that transfers the power toward a target on the ground.
Ultimately, the idea is to assemble many of these modules in space by robots — something the NRL’s Space Robotics Groups is already working on — to form a one kilometer, very powerful satellite.
Science fiction fans have been treated to this idea from a variety of writers - we've been waiting for it to become reality for a long time! Isaac Asimov's 1941 short story Reason described a solar station which beamed energy around the solar system. However, I think Clifford Simak was earlier (by about one month!) with his Solar Energy Beam from his 1941 short story Masquerade.
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