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PHASA-35 high-altitude satellite passes stratospheric flight test…

19 Jul 2023

…and U.S. Naval Research Lab’s in-space laser power beaming experiment passes 100 days’ operation.

British engineers have successfully completed a stratospheric flight trial of BAE Systems’ High Altitude Pseudo Satellite Uncrewed Aerial System (drone) named PHASA-35.

Over a 24-hour period, PHASA-35 soared to more than 66,000 feet (20,120 meters), reaching the stratosphere, before landing successfully. The trial, completed last month in New Mexico, USA, allowed engineers to assess the performance of the experimental solar-electric drone within the outer limits of Earth’s atmosphere.

The flight marks a significant milestone in PHASA-35’s development which began in 2018. Designed by BAE Systems’ subsidiary Prismatic to operate above the weather and conventional air traffic, the drone is said to offer “the potential to provide a persistent and stable platform for various uses including ultra-long endurance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as security.”

It also has the potential to be used in the delivery of communications networks including 4G and 5G and could be used in a wide range of applications, such as disaster relief and border protection, as an alternative to traditional airborne and satellite systems.

PHASA-35, which has a 35-meter wingspan and carries a 15kg payload, uses a range of technologies including advanced composites, solar electric cells and photo-voltaic arrays to provide energy during the day which is stored in rechargeable cells to maintain flight overnight.

BAE’s announcement stated, “The successful trial assessed the performance of the experimental system across a range of areas. It is the first in a series of trials planned to confirm system performance, support development activities and validate test points to enable PHASA-35 to be made available in defence and commercial markets internationally.”

Dave Corfield, CEO of Prismatic commented, “PHASA-35’s first stratospheric flight demonstrates that this vehicle is on track to become the go-to system for long endurance, high altitude and communications applications in the future. The successful trials are a testament to the hard work of the fantastic team that we have built over the last couple of years with Prismatic and other partners.”

Video explainer

First in-space laser power beaming experiment surpasses 100 days of successful operations

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory’s Space Wireless Energy Laser Link (SWELL) surpassed 100 days of successful on-orbit laser operations on June 29, 2023, coinciding with the NRL’s 100th birthday celebration.

Launched on March 14, 2023, this experiment represents the first successful instance of laser power beaming in space. It resides on the International Space Station as part of the U.S. Department of Defense Space Test Program H9 mission.

SWELL has been providing nearly continuously about 1.5 W at the power beaming receiver’s output with an end-to-end efficiency around 11%, more than ten times the team’s efficiency goal. The power beaming link distance is 1.45 m.

To NRL’s knowledge, in addition to being the first laser power beaming demonstration in space, this also represents the highest power, longest distance, and most efficient power beaming demonstration in orbit of any type.

“Though small in scale, SWELL is a critical first step in the investigation of laser power beaming in space. We’re ecstatic with its ongoing success in orbit,” said Chris DePuma, SWELL Program Manager. “This is the first step towards addressing the challenges of implementing power beaming links for lunar exploration and other applications.”

Power beaming

Power beaming delivers energy via electromagnetic waves, avoiding the need for wires or the transport of batteries or fuel. This allows energy to be sent at the speed of light.

SWELL expands on previous NRL-led power beaming efforts, such as SCOPE-O and PTROL that have demonstrated power beaming’s safety and feasibility on the ground, and a prior wireless power demonstration in orbit launched in 2019 and operated in 2020 called LEctenna. The 2020 LEctenna demonstration was the first instance of wireless power transmission in orbit.

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