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Space-Based Solar Power Breakthrough in Air Force

A ground demonstration of unique components for the “sandwich tile” successfully converted solar energy to radio frequency (RF), paving the path for a large-scale solar power collection system in Space. Northrop Grumman was granted a contract for more than $100 million by the Air Force Research Laboratory in 2018 to construct a payload to showcase the major components of a prototype Space solar power system.

The sandwich tile is currently being developed as a key payload component for Arachne, as well as a component for a large-scale operating system. There are two layers to the sandwich tile. The first layer is a photovoltaic (PV) cell panel that collects solar energy and supplies power to the second layer. The components that enable solar to RF conversion and beamforming are found in the second layer.

The effective conversion of solar energy into RF energy in a lightweight and scalable architecture is a key step toward supplying the technology building blocks required to complete the Arachne mission. Stakeholders flocked to Northrop Grumman locations to witness the highly anticipated programme milestone firsthand, while others took part remotely. Melody Martinez, SSPIDR deputy project manager, remarked, “The SSPIDR Project Office is really enthusiastic about this basic capability being tested in the laboratory environment.”

Converting solar energy into RF energy at the component level is a critical step toward achieving large-scale space-based solar power beaming. A solar simulator was utilised to illuminate the PV side of the tile and start the Solar-to-RF conversion process on the ground. As the solar simulator was so intense, guests watched real-time RF output data on monitors from behind an industrial-grade flexible plastic barrier, cheering when an RF energy peak indicated successful power generation.

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