Credit: JPL

The ability to transmit energy over long distances without wires — known as “power beaming” — has been getting second looks + both in the U.S. and abroad.

To this point, the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has issued a Request For Information (RFI) seeking inputs for how best “to implement a demonstration of a power beaming capability that is safe for users and bystanders,” and that delivers on an ongoing basis at least one kilowatt (kW) at a distance of at least one kilometer.

Peter Glaser, the father of the solar power satellite concept.
Credit: Arthur D. Little Inc.

History machine

Turning on the history machine, the idea of wireless power transmission began with Nikola Tesla near the end of the nineteenth century.

Then in 1968, the concept of a solar power satellite was detailed by U.S. space pioneer, Peter Glaser. It would harvest energy from sunlight using solar cells and beam it down to Earth as microwaves to receiving antennas (rectennas), which would convert those microwaves to electrical energy on the electric power grid.

Jump to the mid-1970s microwave power transmission experiments in the tens of kilowatts were conducted at the JPL Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California.

Power beaming from space to Earth is attracting technologists.
Credit: John Mankins

Moon powersat

In more recent times, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. (MHI) announced in 2015 it had conducted ground demonstration testing of wireless power transmission to serve as the core technology of space solar power systems “that are expected to be the power generation systems of the future.”

Over the years, power beaming from the Moon to the Earth has been advocated.

Earlier this year, at a Colorado School of Mines Space Resources meeting, using a space solar power satellite as an alternative power strategy for supporting lunar operations, was advocated by Michael Hecht of the MIT Haystack Observatory and Phil Lubin of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Defense purposes

In the NRL RFI solicitation of August 30, it’s noted that power beaming interest by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and others, have gained “momentum, currency, and recognition.”

For defense purposes, the RFI states that a number of application areas are of immediate interest: swarming, teamed, and individual autonomous air, ground, and sea vehicles, off board countermeasures, unattended ground and sea sensors, explosive ordnance disposal, and camp/convoy/port/fleet security.

“These cover a range of mission areas, including providing communications, intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance. They are applicable in numerous military contexts, such as forward operating bases, combat outposts, landing parties, fleet operations, and distributed sensor networks. Power beaming can also be used to enhance energy harvesting or traditional solar energy collection,” the RFI explains.

Perhaps this new look at power beaming will breathe new life into both Earth and space settings?

To view the Power Beaming – Request for Information Solicitation, go to:

https://www.fbo.gov/spg/DON/ONR/N00173/N00173-19-RFI-AL06/listing.html

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