Imagine scientists shooting solar panels in to space – enough to span 9 football fields – for the sole purpose of being assembled by robots, in order to construct an object capable of capturing solar power. Then, having the harnessed energy being beamed back to Earth through the use of radio waves – allowing a vehicle fitted with a solar receiver to capture enough energy to move about on land.
This isn’t some cryptically futuristic pipe dream, or an Orwellian-veiled vehicle of surveillance or destruction. This is the U.S. Navy’s potential solution to our energy crisis.
Renewable energy has received a tremendous amount of criticism over the years – most in part due to the fact that it can never create the amount we need. For instance, solar power energy returns are minimal when weather conditions are cloudy, or even just at night.
However, space – our final, and perhaps, most abundantly energy resourceful frontier – poses no such issue. It never rains; it’s never cloudy; and it never turns to night.
The Naval Research Laboratory – the corporate research lab for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps – has already began work on this type of solar device. Its design resembles a tile-shaped, multi-paneled module of photovoltaic panels to capture the solar energy. On the other end, it’s equipped with an antenna to beam it back to our planet.
The antenna will utilize radio waves – which could lead to some concern for the safety of our atmosphere. However, Jaffe claims its completely safe, as we already send radiofrequencies and microwaves though it all time and is a much friendlier alternative than using lasers.
Testing this device would require a tremendous amount resources.
However, spacecraft engineer Dr. Paul Jaffe, decided construct his own “space-like conditions” by creating a DIY vacuum to try out the theory. Currently, Jaffe has constructed two different prototypes of a “sandwich module” – where one side receives solar energy with a photovoltaic panel with electronics in the middle convert that direct current to a radiofrequency, and the other side has an antenna to beam power away.
Financially, this project would be very costly. “Launching mass into space is very expensive,” says Jaffe, so finding a way to keep the components light is an essential part of his design.
Other designs have already been attempted in Japan. Also the California utility company PGE has committed to buying such technology from SoCal start-up, Solaren. However, no other company has tested these devices in space, and according to Jaffe, his version has been four times more successful than any other attempt.
In 30 years, we could see solar power being the norm, however, whether or not society wants to invest in it is still questionable. Nevertheless, Paul Jaffe’s idea is not completely out of this world.