The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and Northrop Grumman’s Incremental Space Solar Energy Demonstration and Research Project (SSPIDR) has announced that it is one step closer to collecting solar energy in the space and sending it to Earth using radio frequencies (RF).

In the first end-to-end demonstration of key hardware for the Arachne flight experiment, a team used components for the “sandwich tile” to convert solar energy into RF. Arachne is a flight experiment conducted as part of an AFRL project that aims to develop technologies for a space-based solar transmission system that can power a forward operating base on the ground.

To power a base, solar energy will be collected by Arachne using high efficiency solar PV cells which are converted to RF energy using the sandwich tile. The power will be transmitted to a receiving station at the ground base, and the energy is collected by a rectenna or rectenna which will rectify and convert the RF into usable power. Sandwich tiles are the key to the process and the design eliminates the need for heavy power banks.

The demonstration of the sandwich slab is an important step in the process. The tiles are made up of photovoltaic panels to collect solar energy and RF tiles to emit RF energy, as well as electronics that enable solar-to-RF conversion. The sandwich tile has been under development since 2018 under a contract awarded to Northrop Grumman by AFRL.

“The successful conversion of sunlight to RF energy in a lightweight, scalable architecture is an important step forward in providing the technological building blocks to achieve the Arachne mission,” said Jay Patel, vice president of Remote Sensing Programs Business Unit, Northrop Grumman. “We are helping to provide a pioneering capability that can provide a strategic advantage to our forces around the world. “

The ground demonstration used a solar simulator to illuminate the PV side of the tile and begin the process of converting solar to RF.

The successful tests of the individual tile for the Arachne payload provide a building block for a one-square-meter tile panel – a threshold that has yet to be reached by any other solar-RF experiment. Arachne is expected to launch in 2025.

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