Energy is what makes the world go round. It underlies anything that humans and non-humans do, as it is the capacity for doing work.
On May 17, 2020, the US Naval Research Laboratory experiment was launched onboard the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-6 of the US Air Force that roams the Earth every 90 minutes. It is based on over a decade of work focused on a modular space satellite that can beam light to Eath.
According to Space News, this device is the Photovoltaic Radio-frequency Antenna Module (PRAM). One of its sides catches the solar energy with a photovoltaic panel, and then electronics in the middle converts this light into radio-frequency signals. Meanwhile, the other side has an antenna that beams the power back to the planet.
Making the Best Use of Sunlight
The space-based solar panel is designed to make the best use of the sunlight that does not pass through the Earth's atmosphere. It retains more of the blue waves that are more powerful than the light that reaches the Earth's surface.
The blue waves are diffused once it enters the atmosphere. That explains the color blue of the sky that people see from the ground.
The project's co-developer, Paul Jaffe, said that they aim to get a ton of extra sunlight using the space-based solar panel. Their recent experiments show that the panel can produce about 10 watts of energy per transmission or about the same amount of energy that can power a tablet computer, CNN reported.
Moreover, they plan to scale up the project that could revolutionize how power is generated and distributed in remote areas on Earth; Jaffe noted this technology could contribute to the largest power grid on the planet.
"Some visions have space solar matching or exceeding the largest power plants today -- multiple gigawatts -- so enough for a city," he said, according to CNN.
As of now, it has not yet sent back power directly to the planet, although they have already proven that the panel works. In the future, it is expected to beam microwaves that would be converted into fuel-free electricity to any parts of the world, one of its unique advantage.
Could PRAM Also Send Destructive Beams to Earth?
In their scaling up the project, the scientists said they have to first test sending energy beams back to Earth. The panels should precisely send the microwaves and not accidentally fire at the wrong target using the "retro-directive beam control" that sends a pilot signal from the antenna on Earth to the solar panel in space.
Jaffe clarified that any ill-meaning individual could not use this technology to create a giant space laser. He noted that for that to happen, the size of the antenna needed to direct a destructive beam would have to be so huge that it would be highly noticeable in the years or months it will take to assemble.
Technically, it would be difficult and impossible to build one and to weaponize solar power from space, the researchers said.
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