Wireless energy generation in space is one step closer to becoming a feasible delivery source of power following a new experiment that transmitted electricity through microwaves.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) conducted the research, which sent 1.8 kilowatts of electricity 170 feet through the air, in the form of microwave radiation. The beam was transmitted with a great degree of accuracy, showing the technique may be used on a larger scale.
Solar energy might, one day, be collected by massive solar panels in space, and the energy generated from the systems could be sent to Earth in the form of microwaves. Such networks for generating electricity in space would have some advantages over ground-based systems. Solar collectors in space would not be subject to the cycles of day or night, or cloudy conditions.
"This was the first time anyone has managed to send a high output of nearly 2 kilowatts of electric power via microwaves to a small target, using a delicate directivity control device," a Jaxa spokesman said.
Engineers at Jaxa have spent years researching new technologies to deliver energy from space-based solar collectors down to our home planet. Solar cells commonly power satellites, space probes, and the International Space Station. However, delivering that power to Earth in an economical manner is still a challenge facing developers.
Current plans to develop an orbiting energy generation system involve sending satellites into geostationary orbits more than 22,000 miles above the Earth. The satellites would require large solar panels. Challenges facing engineers include launching these massive solar collectors that high above the Earth, and maintaining them once they are in space. Because of these issues, Jaxa engineers believe that a full network to generate electricity in space will not be available until sometime in the 2040's.
Japan is dependent on imports for near all of its energy needs, feeding a desire to develop their own systems. The nation had utilized nuclear reactors to generate electricity, but those plants shut down in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries recently announced its researchers have successfully transmitted around 10 kilowatts of electricity to a receiver located more than 1,600 feet.
The idea of producing energy in space and sending it to Earth for use has been studied by American researchers for more than 50 years.
Additional uses for the transmitters could include charging electric cars, or sending electricity to remote regions in the wake of natural and man made disasters. Future development of the current system could produce a device capable of transmitting and receiving energy from ocean platforms, far from the nearest coast.