The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has made a remarkable breakthrough in the field of space-based power by successfully beaming solar power from space to Earth without the need for any physical wires—a significant milestone, according to reports.

This groundbreaking experiment is part of Caltech’s Space Solar Power Project, and the institute recently announced the successful transmission through a press release. Researchers accomplished the power transfer using the Microwave Array for Power-transfer Low-orbit Experiment (MAPLE), a small prototype deployed aboard the in-orbit Space Solar Power Demonstrator (SSPD-1) launched in January. The team achieved a significant feat by transmitting solar power collected in space using microwaves to a receiver on the rooftop of Gordon and Betty Moore Laboratory of Engineering on Caltech’s campus in Pasadena.

Co-director of the Space Solar Power Project, Ali Hajimiri, expressed excitement about the results, stating, “Through the experiments we have run so far, we received confirmation that MAPLE can transmit power successfully to receivers in space. We have also been able to program the array to direct its energy toward Earth, which we detected here at Caltech. We had, of course, tested it on Earth, but now we know that it can survive the trip to space and operate there.”

SSPD-1, attached to a Vigoride spacetug from Momentus Space, consists of two panels designed to collect solar power. The MAPLE system within SSPD-1 employs an array of transmitters that utilize constructive and destructive interference to transmit the collected energy across a given distance. Positioned approximately one foot away from its transmitter, MAPLE incorporates two receivers that capture solar energy and convert it into DC electricity. During the experiment, this electricity was used to illuminate two LEDs inside MAPLE, showcasing the accuracy and functionality of the array. Furthermore, MAPLE features a window that enables the transmitters to beam energy to an external target, such as Earth.

Ali Hajimiri emphasized the potential of wireless energy transfer, drawing a parallel to the democratization of information access through the internet. He stated, “In the same way that the internet democratized access to information, we hope that wireless energy transfer democratizes access to energy. No energy transmission infrastructure will be needed on the ground to receive this power. That means we can send energy to remote regions and areas devastated by war or natural disaster.”

The ability to wirelessly transmit solar power from space holds immense implications for renewable energy, as evidenced by Japan’s plans to adopt the technology by the mid-2030s. A Japanese research team, in collaboration with private partners, aims to pilot this technology in 2025.

As the global demand for energy continues to grow, space-based solar power collection and transmission offer a promising solution. Unlike ground-based solar power collection, which is interrupted during nighttime, space-based power collection can operate 24 hours a day. Furthermore, it has the potential to provide power to remote or disaster-stricken areas, assuming the necessary infrastructure is in place. This breakthrough paves the way for a future where space-based solar power can play a significant role in meeting humanity’s energy needs.

By Impact Lab