The US Navy is Researching a Space-Based Solar Power Plant
Kyle Maxey posted on March 20, 2014 |
Could a space-based Navy research project lead to ubiquitous solar power day and night?

DARPA, solar, miliatary, energy, space, satelliteEnergy security is a high priority for the military. In fact, energy security is a high priority for just about every aspect of society. Thus, in a bid to make better use of solar energy, scientists at the Naval Research Lab (NRL) are developing a scheme that would capture solar energy in space and beam it directly to Earth.

One of the biggest problems facing solar power is its intermittent nature. As our planet spins the sun rises and sets, as does the power generating nature of our solar arrays. While that axiom is true on Earth, however, once you leave the planet the Sun’s radiation is constant, undimmed by a rotating globe. With an eye towards that advantage, NRL researcher Paul Jaffe is designing a series of solar modules that could be assembled into a large, space-based satellite and used to collect solar energy without interruption.

Working with two prototype models that contain solar panels, an electrical system and an antenna, Jaffe and his team are attempting to develop a self-contained system that can absorb solar energy, covert that energy to radio waves and beam it back to ground stations here on Earth. In its full blown vision the NRL’s solar array would be a kilometer wide assembly of Jaffe’s self-contained solar panels interlinked into a massive energy net.   

DARPA, solar, miliatary, energy, space, satelliteWhile the NRL’s plan might be a boon for renewable energy proponents, constructing such a system would require a herculean effort. Both rockets and space-borne robots would need to be enlisted in large numbers to shuttle the array’s components into space and assemble them in zero-G.

Given that fact, the NRL doesn’t plan to create a large, space-based solar array anytime in the near future; though that isn’t stopping pioneering scientists like Jaffe. While similar plans from a Japanese corporation and California’s Solaren are equally as ambitious as the NRL’s attempt to create a space-based solar power plant, Jaffe’s response to criticism is definitely the best: “Hard to tell if it’s nuts until you’ve actually tried.”

Images Courtesy of The Navy Research Laboratory

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