U.S. Naval Research Laboratory engineers launched PRAM, the Photovoltaic Radio-frequency Antenna Module, aboard an Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle on May 17 as part of a comprehensive investigation into prospective terrestrial use of solar energy captured in space.
“To our knowledge, this experiment is the first test in orbit of hardware designed specifically for solar power satellites, which could play a revolutionary role in our energy future,” said Paul Jaffe, PRAM principal investigator.
The 12-inch square tile module will test the ability to harvest power from its solar panel and transform the energy to a radio frequency microwave.
“PRAM converts sunlight for microwave power transmission. We could’ve also converted for optical power transmission,” said Chris Depuma, PRAM program manager. “Converting to optical might make more sense for lunar applications because there’s no atmosphere on the Moon. The disadvantage of optical is you could lose a lot of energy through clouds and atmosphere. “
The use of solar energy to operate satellites began at the start of the space age with another NRL spacecraft: Vanguard I, the first satellite to have solar cells. This current experiment focuses on the energy conversion process and resulting thermal performance. The hardware will provide researchers with temperature data, along with PRAM’s efficiency in energy production. This information will drive the design of future space solar prototypes.
Depending on the results, the team aims ultimately to build a fully-functional system on a dedicated spacecraft to test the transmission of energy back to Earth. The development of a space solar capability could potentially help provide energy to remote installations like forward operating bases and disaster response areas.
This flight experiment enables researchers to test the hardware in actual space conditions. Incoming sunlight travels through the Earth’s atmosphere, both filtering the spectrum and reducing its brightness. A space solar system traveling above the atmosphere would catch more energy from each of the sunlight’s color bands.
“There’s more blue in the spectrum in space, allowing you to add another layer to solar cells to take advantage of that,” Jaffe said. “This is one reason why the power per unit area of a solar panel in space is greater than on the ground.”
The National Security Space Office recommended in a 2007 feasibility study to investigate solar power satellite technology. NRL’s expertise with solar-powered satellites since the late 1950s and long history as a pioneer in space, including in the development of GPS, led researchers to further explore this emergent field.
The Latest Updates from Bing News & Google News
Go deeper with Bing News on:
Solar power satellites
- Whatever happened to NASA’s ambitious space-based solar factory from the 1970s?
NASA’s Satellite Power System (SPS) was an idea to build an array of solar panels in space, and then beam the electricity down to Earth. Each of the panels was to be the size of a city, and they would ...
- Solar Flares Are More Dangerous Than You Realized
It was so strong, it created underground electrical currents across North America, leading to a total blackout in Quebec just two minutes after finding vulnerabilities in its power grid. In 2000, ...
- A MAJOR solar flare can have a huge impact on Earth- power, phones to internet!
A solar flare is a massive outburst of energy from the Sun. What if we are directly hit by a major one? This is how solar flares can impact us.
- The Potential for Larger—and Brighter—Starlink Satellites Has Astronomers Worried
SpaceX's next generation of Starlink satellites could pose an even greater threat to astronomical observations.
- Solar storms may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in a given year
In an approximate 11-year cycle, the sun blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field, which may disrupt our body clock and ultimately affect our heart ...
Go deeper with Google Headlines on:
Solar power satellites
Go deeper with Bing News on:
Space solar capability
- Introducing the Electric 2023 Living Vehicle with Industry-Changing Solar Water Generation Technology
After much anticipation, Living Vehicle, a luxury electric travel trailer with impressively powerful off-grid capabilities, announces its 2023 model, bringing the company closer than ever to its ...
- University of Helsinki: Finnish technology helps to find out how the Solar System was formed – ESA will start to build Comet Interceptor
Comet Interceptor, including a main spacecraft and two smaller probes, is equipped with a hyperspectral camera based on VTT’s technology. This technology will provide information about how the Solar S ...
- Chinese researchers test technology to transmit solar power from space
Researchers at Xidian University in China have trialled a technology that could one day wirelessly beam solar power from space to Earth.
- Space Solar Cells Market Demand, Business Opportunity, New Innovations, Industry Growth and Share Report and Forecast to 2028
Global ”Space Solar Cells Market“ is projected to achieve significant growth by the end of the forecast period as per ...
- Impulse Space Raises $10M in Funding
Impulse Space, Inc., an El Segundo, Calif.-based developer of in-space transportation services for the inner solar system, raised $10m in funding ...