The US Air Force (USAF) is trying to make space-based solar power a reality. The USAF aims to achieve something that it believes will go a long way in addressing the energy demand of its military personnel deployed at remote bases in the short term.
It would, however, eventually be made available for civilian use. It plans to use solar panels to harvest the Sun’s energy in space, then beam it down to Earth for use. Officials say that developing such a capability would give the US Air Force a significant advantage on the battlefield.
At the moment, the US military transports fuel and other supplies to forward military facilities via convoys of vehicles and their escorts. These convoys are vulnerable to hostile air and ground strikes. The new concept, dubbed the Space Solar Power Incremental Demonstrations and Research Project (SSPIDR), would allow solar energy to be transmitted directly down to a remote outpost, regardless of its location.
The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has posted a YouTube video explaining the concept and potential applications of such a capability. The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is dedicated to finding, developing, and integrating cheap warfighting technologies for air and space forces.
“Ensuring that a forward operating base maintains reliable power is one of the most dangerous parts of military ground operations,” says the narrator of the video, adding, “Convoys and supply lines are a major target for adversaries”.
The amount of solar energy that can be collected on the ground is limited by the amount of land available, the size of collectors necessary, and the environment. However, if the solar panels were placed in orbit, they would have unrestricted access to the Sun’s rays, ensuring a steady source of energy.
However, getting the energy to the ground is a challenge. It’s not feasible to run wires from orbit to the ground. So, according to the AFRL, it plans to launch sunlight-harvesting satellites into space that will convert solar energy into radio frequency (RF) power and beam it to Earth, where reception antennas will convert the RF energy into usable power.
The Space Solar Power Incremental Demonstrations and Research Project (SSPIDR) is described by the Air Force Research Laboratory as a series of integrated demonstrations and technology maturation initiatives.
This initiative, though it seems military-focused, will enhance the scope of cleaner energy sources. Solar energy has recently become the focus of the push to divest from fossil fuel and coal-generated electricity.
However, the concern remains if the United States will be willing to share the technology with every country for the sake of the environment. China is a major contributor to the global carbon emission due to its coal-based source of energy. But China’s status as a hostile nation to the US means that the Space Solar Power Incremental Demonstrations and Research Project will likely not going to be shared with her, even though it will hinder the 2050 zero-emission climate goal.