Harvesting Solar Power Through Satellites
The Department of Defense is the largest consumer of energy in the world. Three-quarters of the energy it consumes is during U.S. military missions, however, when our military personnel are in remote areas, it can be hard to provide them with energy. We rely on diesel generators, parachute missions, and road missions, but these methods can be dangerous. That’s why we’re trying to find energy alternatives… in space.
The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) is working on a way to harvest solar power through satellites that are in orbit and beam it down to Earth to use. However, these satellites wouldn’t be launched into space already assembled – they’d be launched in pieces and then robots would assemble them while in space (pending the research of the NRL’s Space Robotics Group).
Sounds a little crazy, right?
Two three-layer “sandwich” solar panel types have already been tested in a vacuum chamber that simulates the conditions of space. The first layer of the module is covered in solar panels to capture the solar energy, the middle layer converts the solar energy into radio waves (yes, radio waves can be used for more than entertainment or cell phones), and the bottom layer beams the waves back down to Earth.
Since there are no clouds in space to cover the sun, harvesting solar energy in space is much more efficient than harvesting solar energy on Earth; if enough of these sandwich models are used, we could provide power to the soldiers that need it, minimizing the number of military injuries and deaths associated with protecting fuel convoys. We could even potentially power an entire city.
There are other companies interested in solar power from space:
The Shimizu Corporation in Japan wants to build a solar strip on the moon that’s over 10,000 miles long in order to harvest and send energy to Earth. Also, California utility company Pacific Gas & Electric has a contract with a startup called Solaren (which also aims to harvest space’s solar energy).