In a recent experiment, the European aerospace firm Airbus showed how solar electricity may be sent from space.
Engineers are convinced that they can extend the wireless transmission system's range to reach as far as space over the next ten years, even if it has only so far crossed a distance of a little more than 100 feet (30 metres).
In the experiment, which took place in September at Airbus' X-Works Innovation Factory in Germany, electrical power was delivered through microwaves from a solar panel to a receiver located around 118 feet (36 m) away. A model city was illuminated by the energy beams, which also ran a hydrogen generator and a fridge containing alcohol-free beer that the crowd afterwards drank.
"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," Yoann Thueux, the Airbus research project leader, said in a statement.
Airbus will likely first attempt to beam solar power from an aerial platform before aiming for space. Ultimately, solar power harvested in space and beamed to aircraft could revolutionize aviation, the company thinks. Flying aircraft could also serve as mobile nodes transmitting the power wherever else it might be needed on Earth.
"This could in fact be a game changer for aircraft, with the potential to extend the range, reduce the weight, but also to relay power to other places, managing energy like data," Jean-Dominique Coste, a senior manager at Airbus' Blue Sky department, which develops innovative technologies, said in the statement.