By Meagan Clark
The world’s largest oil consumer, the Pentagon, wants to harvest energy in space.
The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) is building solar panels that it plans to launch into space. The panels would be used to beam energy back to Earth to power military operations, especially in remote areas where transporting fuel is dangerous and expensive.
The plan envisions using robots to assemble the solar panels into a kilometer-long reflecting mass. That’s the length of nine American football fields. The only other satellite that comes close to that size is the International Space Station, which is only slightly longer than one football field. . . .
The NRL has tested two prototypes of what it calls a “sandwich” module, which uses a photovoltaic panel that absorbs the sun’s radiation "on top," an electronics system "in the middle" that converts the energy to a radio frequency and an antenna "on bottom" that shoots the radio waves toward a target on the Earth’s surface. The NRL’s Space Robotics Group is building robots that it hopes to use to assemble several sandwich modules into a single powerful satellite.
The second type of module modifies the sandwich design by opening up solar panels, increasing the area available for solar absorption without overheating. . . .
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