Photovoltaics in space overcomes the shortcomings of ground-based photovoltaics. The first real test is currently underway –

After more than a decade of research, a small prototype of the Momentus Vigoride spacecraft, intended as a proof-of-concept, was launched on January 3, 2023, aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. cosmic solar energy, This was reported by the Popular Science site.

If the experiments are successful, systems like Caltech’s Space Solar Power Demonstrator (SSPD) could one day transmit via microwave transmitters. an infinite amount of renewable energy from space to the earth’s surface.

Space Solar Energy Project

Project Space Solar Power Demonstrator SSPD It began in 2011 when philanthropist Donald Bren, chairman of the Irvine Company and Caltech board member, read about the possibilities of solar power generation in space in Popular Science magazine.

Bren was so intrigued by the potential that he approached then-Caltech President Jean-Louis Chamois for discussions. creating a research project. In 2013, he and his wife Brigitte agreed to finance the project.

“For many years I have dreamed of how space solar energy could solve humanity’s most pressing problems” Bren explains. “Today, I am excited to support the great scientists at Caltech who are working to make this dream a reality.”

Practice phase

Ten minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket reached the desired altitude and sent the Momentus Vigoride spacecraft into orbit. The ground team then began the planned experiments. It is the main task try a few key components:

  • DOLCE (Orbitable ultraLight Composite Experiment): A 183 x 183 centimeter structure demonstrating the architecture and deployment mechanisms of a modular spacecraft that must form a constellation several kilometers in size to function as a solar power plant in space.
  • APPLE: Collection of 32 different types of photovoltaic cells. The goal is to learn which technology makes the most sense in the challenging space environment.
  • MAPLE (Microwave Array for Power Transfer Low Orbit Experiment): A network of flexible lightweight microwave transmitters with precise timing that selectively directs power to two different receivers and demonstrates wireless power transfer from space.

The main advantage of space photovoltaics is that the sun’s rays are not subject to a limited range like on Earth.: alternation of day and night, seasons or meteorological phenomena. The launch represents a significant milestone for the entire project and promises to make what was once science fiction a reality in the near future.

So it can orbit the Earth in the future constellation of modular spaceshipswill collect sunlight, convert it into electricity and transmit it wirelessly over long distances to where it is needed.

Waves on the surface of the pond

The basic concept of wireless power transmission is based on a physical phenomenon intervention. It’s about the interaction, mixing, or collision of events or matter—which is often a characteristic of waves. As they move and intermingle, they reinforce each other at certain points and cancel each other out at other points.

Interference can have different effects depending on the phase difference between individual waves. If the phases of the waves are the same, constructive interference occurs. This means that the waves add up and the resulting wave amplitude is greater than each of the waves separately. Conversely, destructive interference occurs when two waves meet and their amplitudes cancel each other out. The result is a decrease in the amplitude and intensity of the wave at that location.

Professor Ali Hajimiri explains that if you sit on the edge of a pond and wave the surface with your hands, you will probably notice that there are places where the waves are much bigger and there are also places where they are much smaller. Where there are larger waves, the waves accumulate, and where there are smaller waves, they cancel.

If you have multiple sources working together, you can direct the energy in a certain direction. With a bit of exaggeration, it actually works like a magnifying glass that can focus scattered light rays to a small point. In this case, it is about concentrating energy from a large area to a smaller area. With more resources, their time can create constructive interference in any direction.

More experience

Testing other components will take more time. For example, a collection of photovoltaic cells should be tested for up to six months to learn which types of photovoltaic technology will be most suitable.

MAPLE includes a series of experiments, from initial functional verification to the evaluation of system performance over time in various environments. During this time, two cameras on DOLCE’s extension arms and other cameras in the electronics box will monitor the progress of the experiment and transmit images back to Earth. The SSPP team hopes so within a few months of its launch will have complete information needed for performance evaluation.

“But it turns out that this prototype is a big step forward.” says Ali Hajimiri. “It works here on Earth and has gone through the rigorous procedures required for anything launched into space. There are still a lot of risks, but just going through the process has taught us valuable lessons. We believe that the space experiments will provide many other useful information that will guide us in the future continuation of the project.”

Solar panels in space

Although solar panels have been operating on Earth since the late 19th century, their use in space required a rethinking of everything related to the production and transmission of solar energy. There are solar panels on the ground bulky and heavywhich makes them more expensive to issue and they need extensive distribution lines to transmit power.

To overcome these challenges, the SSPP team had to invent and create new technologies, designs, materials and structures. It was necessary to build a system that could make practical use of space solar energy, and at the same time be light enough to be economical for mass deployment in space and strong enough to withstand the demanding space environment.

“DOLCE demonstrates new architecture for solar-powered spacecraft and phased antenna arrays. The latest generation uses ultra-thin composite materials achieving unprecedented efficiency and flexibility. With other advancements we are already working on, we look forward to applications for various future space missions.” says Professor Sergio Pellegrino.

A thrifty team

“The entire flexible MAPLE system, as well as the basic electronic chips for its wireless power transfer and transmitter elements, were designed from scratch. It wasn’t made from purchasable items because they didn’t exist at all. This fundamental revision of the system is necessary to implement scalable solutions for SSPP,” he said. Hajimiri explains.

He conceived, designed, built and tested the entire set of three prototypes a team of about 35 people. “We did this with a smaller team and significantly fewer resources than would be available in an industrial environment. Thanks to the talented team, this was possible” Hajimiri says. A group of graduate students, post-graduates and scientists now represent the emerging field of space solar energy.

“Our concept is based on a modular assembly of ultra-light, foldable, 2D integrated elements. The integration of solar energy and radio wave conversion in a single element allows avoiding the distribution network in the entire structure, further reducing weight and complexity. This concept allows for scalability and reduces the impact of a local failure of an element on other parts of the system.” The project’s official website reported on thisyou can learn more about

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