Scientists at the Pentagon have been successful in testing a solar panel prototype. Sized as a pizza box, it is a reference for a future system, that could send electricity from space to any point on Earth.
Crux of the Matter
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The panel called Photovoltaic Radiofrequency Antenna Module (PRAM) was first launched in May 2020, attached to the Pentagon’s X-37B unmanned drone.
Light energy to electricity?
Blue light spreads on entering the atmosphere, which makes the sky appear blue. PRAM retains the energy of blue waves, making it more powerful than the sunlight that reaches Earth.
What Is It Capable Of?
The 12×12-inch solar panel is capable of producing 10 watts of energy for transmission. This can power a tablet.
The tech has been proven but it is yet to send power from space. If made on a large scale, it can generate and distribute power to remote corners of the globe, contributing to Earth’s largest grid networks.
Temperature Is Key
Future PRAM versions would be located in geosynchronous orbit, circling 36,000 km away from Earth. For now, heaters were used to keep it at a constant, warm temperature and test its efficiency.
Can The Panel Accidentally Fire?
No. The panels will use the “retro-directive beam control” technique. This sends a pilot signal up from the destination antenna on Earth, to the panels in space. Only then, the microwave beams from the panel would be transmitted and converted to electricity on earth.
Helpful In Natural Disasters
If made available for the general public, it would help in case of disaster situations like the recent Texas power outage, wherein normal grid infrastructure had collapsed.
What About A Giant Space Laser?
Well, the size of the antenna needed to create a destructive beam would be huge. “It would be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible,” says Paul Jaffe, a co-developer.
- In 1839, the ability of some materials to create an electrical charge from light exposure was first observed by Alexandre Becquerel. Though the premiere solar panels were too inefficient for even simple electric devices.
- In 1881, Charles Fritts created the first commercial solar panel, which was reported by Fritts as “continuous, constant and of considerable force not only by exposure to sunlight but also to dim, diffused daylight.” However, these solar panels were very inefficient, especially compared to coal-fired power plants.
- In 1939, Russell Ohl created the solar cell design that is used in many modern solar panels. He patented his design in 1941. In 1954, this design was first used by Bell Labs to create the first commercially viable silicon solar cell.