US Air Force research laboratory developing space solar power beaming

The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) announced on 24 October that it is working to develop “space-based solar power transmission capability using high-efficiency solar cells” to collect the sun’s energy, convert it to radio frequencies and beam it back to Earth.

The AFRL said that “providing uninterrupted, assured, and agile power to expeditionary forces operating in unimproved areas such as forward operating bases would provide an advantage to US and allied forces”.

AFRL researchers are focused on “developing and demonstrating some of the key technologies necessary to integrate into a conceptual space-based power beaming system”, the laboratory said.

American global aerospace and defense technology company Northrop Grumman will partner with AFRL, and has been awarded a contract valued at over US$100 million to develop and deliver unspecified hardware elements to support space-based experiments into this new technology.

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

“The Space Solar Power Incremental Demonstrations and Research (SSPIDR) Project is a very interesting concept that will enable us to capture solar energy in space and precisely beam it to where it is needed,” Felt added. “SSPIDR is part of AFRL’s ‘big idea pipeline’ to ensure we continue to develop game-changing technologies for our Air Force, [Department of Defense], nation, and world.”

AFRL is the primary scientific research and development center for the United States Air Force (USAF), and leads USAF’s “discovery, development and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for [the country’s] air, space and cyberspace force”.

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