Loading...

Air Force and Northrop Grumman Researchers Make Space Solar Breakthrough

December 28, 2021 by Dan McCue
Project Managers James Winter (Air Force Research Laboratory) and Tara Theret (Northrop Grumman) hold models of the photovoltaic and the radio frequency sides of the sandwich tile, while at the Linthicum, Maryland facility, to witness the conversion and beaming experiment. (Photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman)

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. — Researchers preparing for the first flight of the Arachne, an experimental solar power satellite, have successfully conducted the first end-to-end demonstration of a key piece of hardware — its unique solar panels.

The Space Solar Power Incremental Demonstrations and Research project is a joint initiative of the Air Force Research Laboratory and Northrop Grumman.

In 2018, the laboratory awarded the contractors a contract in excess of $100 million to develop a payload for the International Space Station to demonstrate the critical components of a prototype space solar power system.

The just completed a successful  “ground” demonstration focused on the components for a “sandwich tile” which were used to successfully convert solar energy to radio frequency. This is the first of several steps toward creating a reliable large-scale solar power collection system in space.

The sandwich tile consists of two layers. The first layer is a panel of highly efficient photovoltaic cells which collect solar energy and provide power to the second layer. The second layer is populated with components that enable solar-to-RF conversion and beamforming.

“The successful conversion of sunlight into RF energy in a lightweight and scalable architecture is a significant step forward in delivering the technology building blocks to achieve the Arachne mission,” said Jay Patel, vice president, remote sensing programs business unit, Northrop Grumman, in a written statement. 

The ground demonstration used a solar simulator to illuminate the PV side of the tile and begin the solar-to-RF conversion process. Because the solar simulator was so intense, attendees viewed real-time RF output data on monitors from behind an industrial grade flexible plastic barrier and cheered when an RF energy peak appeared indicating successful power conversion and RF radiated power.

“The [Space Solar Power Incremental Demonstrations and Research Project] office is very excited about this baseline capability being exercised in the laboratory environment,” said Deputy Project Manager Melody Martinez. “Converting solar energy into RF energy at the component-level is a pivotal step to realizing space-based solar power beaming on a larger scale.”

“It was extremely exciting to be present for this critical milestone in the SSPIDR portfolio, and seeing all the hard work our partners at Northrop Grumman have accomplished,” said Kyle Gleichmann, Arachne’s chief engineer. “We look forward to future milestones as we move forward to launching this keystone payload. It’s crucial we demonstrate this technology on-orbit as soon as possible to meet our nation’s needs.” 

The first “in flight” test of the system aboard the International Space Station is currently scheduled for 2023. The Arachne, meanwhile, is scheduled to launch in 2025.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

In The News

Health

Voting

Renewable Energy

May 18, 2022
by Dan McCue
Researchers Create Solar Cell With Record Efficiency Rate

GOLDEN, Colo. — Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have created the most efficient solar cell ever made, the... Read More

GOLDEN, Colo. — Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have created the most efficient solar cell ever made, the numbers coming in at a record 39.5% efficiency under 1-sun global illumination. Details of the research appear in the May issue of the journal Joule. According... Read More

May 18, 2022
by Dan McCue
US Army Leading By Example On Climate Change Adaptation

WASHINGTON — Though its primary mission remains warfighting, the U.S. Army is playing a leading role in an entirely different... Read More

WASHINGTON — Though its primary mission remains warfighting, the U.S. Army is playing a leading role in an entirely different battle — the nation’s response to the challenges of climate change. The scope of this mission is laid out in the Army’s Climate Change Strategy, which... Read More

May 13, 2022
by Dan McCue
More Than 13,000 Express Interest in Joining DOE’s Clean Energy Corps

WASHINGTON — Barely five months after it was launched, more than 13,000 people have applied to become members of the... Read More

WASHINGTON — Barely five months after it was launched, more than 13,000 people have applied to become members of the Department of Energy’s new Clean Energy Corps team. The creation of the corps is a byproduct of the bipartisan infrastructure law, which invested $62 million in... Read More

May 13, 2022
by Dan McCue
Delaware Extends Electric Vehicle Rebate Program

DOVER, Del. — The state of Delaware is extending its popular Clean Vehicle Rebate Program through the end of the... Read More

DOVER, Del. — The state of Delaware is extending its popular Clean Vehicle Rebate Program through the end of the year. The program had been set to expire June 30. The program, which is administered by the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, has... Read More

May 12, 2022
by Tom Ramstack
Hydropower Offers Potential for Energy but Only With Revisions, Lawmakers Told

WASHINGTON — Hydropower offers a promising clean energy option for producing electricity but only if the current regulatory obstacles can... Read More

WASHINGTON — Hydropower offers a promising clean energy option for producing electricity but only if the current regulatory obstacles can be overcome, according to energy industry and environmental officials who testified to Congress Thursday. Last year, hydroelectricity generation produced about 260 billion kilowatt hours or 6.5%... Read More

May 12, 2022
by Dan McCue
DC Most Accessible Metro in DMV When It Comes to Charging Electric Vehicles

NEW YORK —The District of Columbia is hands down the most accessible metro in the DMV when it comes to... Read More

NEW YORK —The District of Columbia is hands down the most accessible metro in the DMV when it comes to charging your electric vehicle, a new study by the financial comparison site Forbes Advisor has found. The study, based on data provided by the U.S. Department... Read More

News From The Well