MAPLE project sends “solar power” from a satellite to earth for the first time

Joshua Falcón.

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Proyecto MAPLE envía energía solar desde un satélite a la tierra por primera vez

The transmission of solar energy from space to Earth is no longer a futuristic vision but a tangible reality. A scientific milestone has been reached by a space experiment, which has succeeded in transmitting energy through solar panels located on an orbiting satellite.

First successful space transmission of solar energy

This breakthrough was achieved thanks to the MAPLE experiment(Microwave Array for Power-transfer Low-orbit Experiment), an initiative of the Space Solar Power Demonstrator (SSPD), which has successfully tested power transmission in space to Earth. This achievement not only represents the first time that solar power has been transmitted from Earth orbit, but is also shaping up to be an initial step towards the development of a future space solar power plant.

The device, which was launched in January 2023, demonstrated its ability to transmit power, reaching 100 milliwatts through space just two months after launch. It stands out for its flexibility, as it can be easily reoriented to direct the energy beam in any desired direction.

During the test phase focused on sending energy to Earth, a power of approximately 1 milliwatt was transmitted on three different occasions over a period of eight months, demonstrating the feasibility of this innovative energy supply method.

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A potential space for the future of solar energy

Looking to the future, an ambitious goal is envisioned of creating a constellation of modular spacecraft that, together, would be capable of transmit enough energy to meet the needs of 10,000 to meet the needs of 10,000 households.

Each of these modular satellites would have a volume of 1 cubic meter and would be arranged in a square formation of 50 meters per side. This design would incorporate solar cells on one side and microwave transmitters on the opposite side, optimizing solar energy collection and transmission.

The MAPLE project has demonstrated its unique ability to broadcast power in multiple directions, offering an innovative solution to efficiently deliver power to inaccessible or crisis-affected locations without relying on conventional transmission grids.

New energy vision for the future

This breakthrough, led by Ali Hajimiri, co-director of the SSPD, promises to revolutionize energy access, following the model of how the Internet transformed access to information. The technology seeks to facilitate energy supply to remote or emergency-stricken regions, marking a milestone in the democratization of access to vital resources.

With the vision of eliminating the need for land-based infrastructure for receiving energy, the future is shaping up to bring electricity to areas that are isolated or affected by conflicts and natural disasters.

According to Hajimiri, this technology aims to match “access to energy with the universality of access to information,” providing hope for a world where electricity supply is ubiquitous and accessible to all, regardless of geographical barriers or adverse situations.

In addition, the SSPD is evaluating other critical components for development, such as DOLCE, which is examining the feasibility of orbital deployment structures, and ALBA, which is investigating the most efficient photovoltaic cells for use in space. Although the results of these tests are still pending, their success is critical to the long-term implementation of the space power distribution project, underscoring the continued