The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) says for the first time, it successfully beamed solar power wirelessly from space back down to Earth. The team recently completed its first major test after launching a space solar power prototype into orbit earlier this year.
Caltech’s Space Solar Power Project launched the Space Solar Power Demonstrator (SSPD-1) into orbit with the goal of harvesting space solar power, then transmitting it back to us Earthlings. This week it successfully finished its first power transfer experiment using the Microwave Array for Power-transfer Low-orbit Experiment (MAPLE) prototype aboard the SSPD-1.
If that sounds wild, it’s because it is. MAPLE captured solar power in space and shot it down to a receiver at Caltech’s campus in Pasadena. The group outfitted a large receiver on the rooftop of its Gordan and Betty Moore Laboratory of Engineering for the job.
“Through the experiments we have run so far, we received confirmation that MAPLE can transmit power successfully to receivers in space. We have also been able to program the array to direct its energy toward Earth, which we detected here at Caltech. We had, of course, tested it on Earth, but now we know that it can survive the trip to space and operate there,” said team lead Ali Hajimiri.
According to Caltech, the entire system was built using low-cost silicon technologies, and a massive array of flexible, lightweight microwave power transmitters did the rest. Those transmitters can beam the power to other desired locations, so long as there’s a receiver ready to capture it.
It’s still early in these tests, but the implications are enormous. For one, the sun has unlimited solar power as long as you can capture and distribute it. And two, imagine being able to draw power from space and then send it to remote regions that wouldn’t otherwise have proper infrastructure or during natural disasters. Or even a solar-powered car.
It’s a small step for space solar power, but an important one. Who knows, one day these receivers can gather all that solar power to charge our self-driving electric vehicles.