The California Institute of Technology has big news for space-based power generation. Researchers at the university have reportedly transmitted solar energy from space to Earth without a single wire – and they say it’s a first.
The experiment is part of Caltech’s Space Solar Power Project, and the institute announced a successful transmission via press release yesterday. Researchers performed the power transfer experiment using the Microwave Array for Power-transfer Low-orbit Experiment (MAPLE), a small prototype aboard the recently launched In-Orbit Space Solar Power Demonstrator (SSPD-1). January.
The researchers say the MAPLE line of transmitters is the first to beam solar energy collected in space using microwaves to a receiver on the roof of the Gordon and Betty Moore Laboratory of Engineering on the Caltech campus in Pasadena.
“Through the experiments we have conducted so far, we have received confirmation that MAPLE can successfully transmit power to receivers in space,” said Ali Hajimiri, co-director of the Space Solar Power Project, in the press release. “We were also able to program the array to direct its energy toward Earth, which we discovered here at Caltech. We had of course tested it on Earth, but now we know it can survive the journey into space and work there.”
The SSPD-1, attached to a Momentus Space Vigoride space tug, consists two Panels for collecting solar energy. A number of transmitters within MAPLE transmit this energy over a certain distance using constructive and destructive interference. Located about a foot from its transmitter, MAPLE has two receivers that collect solar energy and convert it into DC power, which was used to light up two LEDs inside MAPLE during the experiment. The researchers managed to light one LED at a time by shifting the transmissions between the receivers, demonstrating the array’s accuracy. MAPLE also has a window that can allow the transmitters to beam energy to a target outside the spacecraft, such as Earth.
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“Just as the Internet has democratized access to information, we hope wireless power transmission will democratize access to power,” Hajimiri said in the release. “No on-site power transmission infrastructure is required to receive this power. This means we can send power to remote regions and areas that have been devastated by war or natural disasters.”
The ability to transmit solar energy wirelessly from space is having a huge impact on renewable energy, and at a significant rate Japan plans to use it in the mid-2030s. A Japanese research team wants to test the technology 2025 with a public-private partnership.
As humanity’s energy needs continue to grow, a powerful solution such as space-based solar energy collection and transmission could be a major step forward right direction. Space-based power generation would operate 24/7 – while ground-based solar power generation would be off at night – and would be able to channel power to remote or disaster-hit areas, provided they have the necessary capabilities infrastructure.
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