The Navy Wants to Beam Down Energy from Orbiting Solar Panels

The Navy Wants to Beam Down Energy from Orbiting Solar Panels

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory is working on technology to capture solar power in space, then beam it down to Earth.

Solar panels on Earth are limited by our day/night cycle and cloud cover - solar panels in space can soak up power constantly. The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) is working on technology to harness enough energy from orbiting solar panels to power military bases or even cities.

Dr. Paul Jaffe, a spacecraft engineer at NRL, has built and tested a module to capture and transmit solar power from space, which can make it easier to power remote bases and would provide cost-competitive power.

"Launching mass into space is very expensive," says Jaffe, but he has built two different prototypes of a "sandwich" module that is four times more efficient than anything previously constructed. Both designs of the "sandwich" module include a photovoltaic panel on one side to receive solar energy, an antenna on the other side to beam power to Earth, and electronics in between that convert the energy to a radiofrequency suitable for beaming.

"People might not associate radio waves with carrying energy," says Jaffe, "because they think of them for communications, like radio, TV, or cell phones. They don't think about them as carrying usable amounts of power."

To mitigate any potential concerns about orbital death lasers, Jaffe explains that the antenna only sends energy to a specific receiver that asks for it. Further, by using microwaves instead of lasers, the power is less concentrated.

"The most sobering thing about all of this is scale," says Jaffe. He imagines an array of modules that would span ten American football fields; compare that to the largest man-made satellite, the International Space Station, which is barely longer than one.

Source: U.S. Naval Research Lab, via Wired

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This is a pretty old concept, but it's kinda neat to see it finally getting something besides theory.

Aeshi:
This is a pretty old concept, but it's kinda neat to see it finally getting something besides theory.

Seconded.

I remember hearing about this idea back in the 80's. But there was a lot of outcry about "stray beams burning the heart out of America's breadbasket" et cetera. These smaller satellites wouldn't be any more dangerous than your average cell phone tower.

And given how efficient many electronic devices are these days, even a small power satellite would be a great boon for something like a UAV. Removing the on-board fuel from a small aerial drone can more than halve the operational weight.

Well, looks like it'll be the first small step towards building a Dyson Sphere.

Sbsp (Space Based Solar Power)

Pretty old concept. Good to see it finaly gains some momentum!

DasDestroyer:
Well, looks like it'll be the first small step towards building a Dyson Sphere.

What, the useless piece of crap that would actually expend more energy building it than can ever capture?
That thing?

Objectable:

DasDestroyer:
Well, looks like it'll be the first small step towards building a Dyson Sphere.

What, the useless piece of crap that would actually expend more energy building it than can ever capture?
That thing?

Find a star big enough and it will output far more energy than it would take to create it, assuming we master transforming matter into energy and vice versa.

I'm not sure about all this beaming. Is it safe?

Snotty beamed me three times last night. It was wonderful.

Objectable:

DasDestroyer:
Well, looks like it'll be the first small step towards building a Dyson Sphere.

What, the useless piece of crap that would actually expend more energy building it than can ever capture?
That thing?

You forget the prime motivation. Awesomeness.

Its not a realistic of feasible construction. However, awesome.

DasDestroyer:

Find a star big enough and it will output far more energy than it would take to create it, assuming we master transforming matter into energy and vice versa.

We already kinda did. See Sabatier reaction. But for space based power we would probably convert it to microwaves.

HalloHerrNoob:

DasDestroyer:

Find a star big enough and it will output far more energy than it would take to create it, assuming we master transforming matter into energy and vice versa.

We already kinda did. See Sabatier reaction. But for space based power we would probably convert it to microwaves.

I was referring to the "cost" of creating a dyson sphere being its mass if we learn to create any element out of energy as losslessly as possible and on an enormous scale, and that according to the square-cube law as a star's mass increases the mass of a dyson sphere around it would increase significantly more slowly, not the transfer of energy we collect, that of course needs to be done through microwaves or through some better wireless energy transfer that we will most likely have come up with by the time it's feasible to build one.

Beaming energy from satellites down to Earth? And it's the military working on this project? Why do I see this going horribly wrong?

This sounds like a poor idea considering how much debris and trash is floating around in the earth's orbit. Solar panels are pretty sensitive to scratching and the bigger you build them, the bigger the chance they'll get hit by something. But then again, maybe this is one of these cases where the size of space is hard to judge. While there is a lot of stuff floating around the orbit, there is also a lot of orbit to go around. So maybe the odds of broken glass aren't that high.

Woe to any birds flying through the beam. Or planes, for that matter, though I don't think there would be too many planes flying around small remote military bases.

How would they actually do this? If the satellites were in geostationary orbit, they'd have watch out for all the satellites in lower orbits. If they were in one of the lower orbits themselves, they'd still only be able to beam down energy during daytime.

I think they are secretly planning to start enforcing speed limits by radar.

TL;DR This means space lasers right?

If my experience with video games and James Bond movies is true at all, it'll be used as a superweapon to fire solar beams at any target that disagrees with them.

so, technology that was actually made back around the 1900's is getting a small update with solar panels.

good to know some suppressed technology is finally being brought back into the spotlight.

"Launching mass into space is very expensive,"
Yeah.... and solar power aint that efficient...

So, just go with nuclear for your remote navy base.
Or supply it with regular fuel. Or use wave/wind as source.

Space is STUPID expensive to reach. Or are they going with sub orbital balloons?

Exterminas:
This sounds like a poor idea considering how much debris and trash is floating around in the earth's orbit. Solar panels are pretty sensitive to scratching and the bigger you build them, the bigger the chance they'll get hit by something. But then again, maybe this is one of these cases where the size of space is hard to judge. While there is a lot of stuff floating around the orbit, there is also a lot of orbit to go around. So maybe the odds of broken glass aren't that high.

+1 to this

This sounds like a serious concern that could really wreck a solar panel's day. The more Solar Panels you have, and the bigger you are, the higher the chance that an old Sputnik probe or whatever is going to crash into them.

You could build these power stations back in SimCity 2000! Only you had to be careful where you built them, since they could result in the disaster called the "Microwave Oops".

(And of course like most of the other power stations they always quietly exploded 50 years after being built. I hated that.)

ShakerSilver:
Beaming energy from satellites down to Earth? And it's the military working on this project? Why do I see this going horribly wrong?

Well as long as those Nod engineers don't get into our ion cannon control centers we should be okay. Though given plain old human carelessness, something -will- go wrong, sooner rather that later. But, precedent and all that...

DasDestroyer:
Well, looks like it'll be the first small step towards building a Dyson Sphere.

First we have to create a ringworld then accidentally introduce an organism that eats away at superconductors, causing a catastrophic meltdown resulting in the social devolution of the inhabitants to a tribe like state.

gunny1993:

DasDestroyer:
Well, looks like it'll be the first small step towards building a Dyson Sphere.

First we have to create a ringworld then accidentally introduce an organism that eats away at superconductors, causing a catastrophic meltdown resulting in the social devolution of the inhabitants to a tribe like state.


Cookie for the Ringworld reference. :D

GothmogII:

That reminds me, we kinda have to make this happen, if only so the GDI finally gets their superweapon. Nod already had theirs for decades; nuclear missiles are old news.

My first thought that sprang up at the mention of solar panels and beaming energy down, was immediately Gundam 00. Space elevators, a massive ring of solar collectors, and easy space travel...

knowing humans though....we'd still find a way to bugger it up *shrugs* ah well....a nice thought though ^^

 

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