The MAPLE mission has been successful: the probe sent solar energy from space using microwave waves.
A team of Caltech researchers announced Thursday that their space prototype, called the Space Solar Power Demonstrator ( SSPD-1 ), collected sunlight , converted it into electricity, and transmitted it to microwave receivers installed on a rooftop on the institute’s campus. in Pasadena, United States.
This test showed that it is possible that the concept designed in 1968 by NASA engineer Peter Glaser to send solar energy could be a reality on a large scale.
MAPLE and collected solar energy
The experiment, known in its entirety as the Microwave Array for Power-transfer Low-orbit Experiment (or MAPLE for short), is one of three research projects being conducted aboard SSPD-1 .
The effort involved two separate sets of receivers and lightweight microwave transmitters with custom chips.
The team added that the transmission setup was designed to minimize the amount of fuel needed to send them into space, and that the design also needed to be flexible enough so that the transmitters could be folded into a rocket.
In their tests, the scientists were able to successfully transmit power to two separate receivers in space approximately 30 centimeters apart, without shielding from solar radiation.
But in their second test, they managed to send energy all the way to Earth’s surface, where a receiver on the roof of a building on the Caltech campus picked up a signal that matched the scientists’ predictions.
“To our knowledge, no one has ever demonstrated wireless power transfer in space, even with expensive rigid structures,” said SSPP co-director Ali Hajmiri. “We are doing it with flexible lightweight structures and with our own integrated circuits. This is the first time.”
He’s not the only one in the race
Caltech’s Space Solar Power Project isn’t the only team that has been trying to make space-based solar power a reality.
Late last month, a few days before this institution’s announcement, Japan’s space agency JAXA announced a public-private partnership that aims to send solar power from space by 2025 . The leader of that project, a professor at Kyoto University, has been working on space-based solar power since 2009.