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The United States Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has been interested in developing a system that would harvest solar energy in space to be beamed back to Earth. The solar energy would be collected on a satellite in Earth’s orbit, there the energy would be converted into radio frequency so that it could be beamed to remote locations for the Air Force’s operations.
According to Stripes.com, the idea of collecting solar energy in space for use on Earth is an idea that has been around since the 1960s. However the technology to make such a process cost effective hasn’t been around.
The AFRL along with Northrop Grumman have been at work trying to develop the technology to make such a concept efficient and cost effective. Together the two organizations have been working on the $100 million Space Solar Power Incremental Demonstration and Research Project (SSPIDR).
Military officials have mentioned that the project was “born out of an operational need to provide power to disadvantaged users”. Soldiers today rely on sometimes dangerous fuel convoy deliveries for their energy when in remote locations. The ability to send power from space would eliminate the need for the dangerous fuel convoys, thus increasing troops safety.
The technology envisioned would be a constellation of satellites equipped with solar panels about 10,000 square meters large. The satellites will gather solar energy and would be sent down to Earth whenever and wherever the military deems necessary.
Several different demonstrations are being developed in order to help develop a large scale prototype. The AFRL will not be making the final prototype, likely trusting experienced firms with the responsibility.
The technology would also greatly benefit non military applications, potentially making it possible for remote areas in the world to have access to energy anywhere and anytime. The technology would be able to work at night as well, so such a system could be incredibly beneficial for disaster relief efforts.