Space-based solar power getting key test aboard US military's mysterious X-37B space plane
The X-37B space plane is being used to flight-validate the best ways to gather the sun's energy for power beaming from Earth orbit.
Science & Tech
A U.S. military space plane is being used to flight-validate the best ways to gather the sun's energy for power beaming from Earth orbit.
In mid-March, the latest classified mission of the U.S. Space Force's X-37B robotic space plane winged past 300 days in Earth orbit.
Most of the robotic space drone's duties on this mission, known as Orbital Test Vehicle-6 (OTV-6), are a tightly held secret. However, one known bit of research that the craft carries is the Photovoltaic Radio-frequency Antenna Module Flight Experiment, or PRAM-FX.
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PRAM-FX is a Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) experiment that's investigating transforming solar power into radio frequency (RF) microwave energy. PRAM-FX is a 12-inch (30.5 centimeters) square tile that collects solar energy and converts it to RF power.
Paul Jaffe, the innovation power beaming and space solar portfolio lead at NRL, said that PRAM-FX is not beaming microwave energy anywhere. Rather, the experiment is gauging the performance of sunlight-to-microwave conversion. To be measured is how the PRAM is performing from an efficiency standpoint and also from a thermal performance stance, he said.