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US Naval Research Lab launches Space Wireless Energy Laser Link

27 Mar 2023

“SWELL” project to demonstrate laser “power beaming” in space – as part of the DOD's latest mission to the ISS.

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory has this month launched the Space Wireless Energy Laser Link. “SWELL” is designed to demonstrate laser “power beaming” in space as part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Space Test Program H9 mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

SWELL is one of several experiments that have been launched aboard the SpaceX Dragon cargo vehicle to the ISS for the yearlong mission to collect data during a laser power beaming link in space conditions.

The experiment, which is sponsored by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition & Sustainment and supported by the Operational Energy Capability Improvement Fund, will explore challenges for power beaming’s viability for space applications, and also highlight the possibilities for using power beaming to address energy challenges on Earth.

Paul Jaffe, Ph.D., Electronics Engineer and SWELL Principal Investigator, commented, “With this modest experiment, we will identify key focus areas for developing links of greater power and longer distance for space. By employing laser transmitters and photovoltaic receivers, power beaming links will be established that will pave the way for rapid, resilient, and flexible energy delivery systems.”

Power beaming

Power beaming is a means of delivering energy in the form of electromagnetic waves that does not require the transport of mass, so energy can be sent almost instantly. Its feasibility and safety have been proven on the ground, and now these efforts are expanding to space, states the Naval Research Laboratory.

“This is the next step in extending this capability for space, lunar, and planetary applications,” said Chris DePuma, SWELL Program Manager. “Power beaming is poised as a critical enabler for power distribution on the moon and elsewhere in space.”

The yearlong SWELL experiment is expected to provide data that shows how the [power beaming] hardware functions in the space environment and show which constraints are likely to affect the deployment of future operational systems.

By eliminating the need for moving fuel or batteries, or for stringing wires, SWELL could be a compelling option for the utilization of lunar resources and development on the Moon. “Power beaming might also be used for distributing power for and around Earth, including from satellites that collect solar energy in space,” Jaffe said. “SWELL is the next step into this new frontier.”

About the U.S. NRL

NRL is a scientific and engineering command dedicated to research that drives innovative advances for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps from the seafloor to space and in the information domain. NRL is located in Washington, D.C. with major field sites in Stennis Space Center, Mississippi; Key West, Florida; Monterey, California, and employs approximately 3,000 civilian scientists, engineers and support personnel.

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