30 Sep 2022

Airbus Demonstrates Solar Power Beaming

30 Sep 2022  by   

Image: Airbus

Airbus has reported demonstrating solar power beaming, which would be used to deliver solar power from space.

The principle is well understood and has been outlined in space-based solar power proposals – to convert the solar power gathered in the arrays to microwaves for beaming to Earth via wireless power transfer for reconversion into electricity.

But there is still much research required to develop the technology and various efforts are under way, with distances up to around 1km having been achieved so far with a microwave power source by a research group in the US.

Airbus’s demonstration at its X-Works Innovation Factory was over a distance of 36m, with solar energy as the power source, which was converted to microwaves and the reconverted energy used to produce green hydrogen and light up a model city.

Airbus has not released any details of its technology, but Jean-Dominique Coste, Senior Manager at Airbus Blue Sky, who led the development, said “the underlying principle is quite simple”.

The company also has not expanded on its long term ambition for space based solar power, beyond highlighting its potential to power aircraft in flight in addition to delivery into the grid, but with the completion of the demonstration is continuing its development of power beaming.

“Now that we have successfully tested the key bricks of a future space-based solar power system on a small scale for the first time, we are now ready to take power beaming to the next level,” said Yoann Thueux, Project Team leader at Airbus and one of the co-developers.

He said a number of designs are being looked at.

Airbus is advocating a stepped approach to scaling the system, from the ground to aerial systems then in space.

The company believes the first operating power beaming prototypes could be in use by the early 2030s and highlights that a major area of research concerns the overall efficiency. For example, from a satellite in geostationary orbit, the beaming distance would be about 36,000km over which any losses would need to be minimised.

Airbus also notes the potential of aircraft to relay power both to other craft in the air such as drones or to the ground, which could also open the way for lower than geostationary orbit solar power satellites.

“Power beaming technologies would enable the creation of new energy networks in the sky and could help solve the energy problem,” Coste said.

“This could in fact be a game changer for aircrafts, with the potential to extend the range, reduce the weight, but also to relay power to other places, managing energy like data. In the end, this will be a joint effort with institutions and the energy industry.”


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