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Air Force Research Laboratory looks to beam solar energy from space

The concept of collecting solar energy through satellites and beaming the power to earth has been around since the 1960s.

But the technology hasn’t been around to do it cost effectively. But that may no longer be the case.

The Air Force Research Laboratory in Albuquerque is helping to develop a system that would collect solar energy in space, convert it to radio frequency, and beam it to earth to be used in remote, forward operational bases during military operations.

AFRL is partnering with Northrop Grumman on the more than $100 million Space Solar Power Incremental Demonstration and Research project, also known as SSPIDR to develop the technology.

“Energy is a strategic enabler and potential vulnerability for our nation and our Department of Defense,” said Col. Eric Felt, director of AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate. “To ensure DOD mission success, we must have the energy we need at the right place at the right time.”

Maj. Tim Allen said the project was “born out of an operational need to provide power to disadvantaged users” such as forward operational bases that rely on fuel convoy deliveries for power. He said the ability to send power from space provides “more safety to our troops so they don’t have to escort those convoys.”

Developers envision a system that is a constellation of satellites with solar panels, about 10,000 square meters — almost the size of two football fields — said Allen and systems engineer Rachel Delaney.

“This whole project is building toward wireless power transmission,” said Allen, who is the demonstrations manager on the project.

He said the solar panels that would be sent into space would “beam power down when and where we choose.”

“The beams are electronically steered so we can put them down in specific locations and keep them steered there without having to turn some large array,” Allen said.

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