WASHINGTON – It has been one year since U.S. Naval Research Laboratory engineers launched PRAM, the Photovoltaic Radio-frequency Antenna Module, aboard the Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle on May 17, 2020.
The mission is part of a comprehensive investigation into prospective terrestrial use of solar energy captured in space.
“It’s been exhilarating getting to this point,” Paul Jaffe, Ph.D., PRAM principal investigator said. “While we would have liked the moment to arrive sooner, it’s great to feel that we’re making forward progress.”
PRAM is testing functional components of what would be part of a power satellite network that could transmit energy from space to anywhere on Earth. Since the launch, the team has been receiving data regularly.
“The analysis to this point has shown that it has performed as well in orbit and even in some cases exceeded our pre-launch laboratory testing,” Chris DePuma, PRAM Program Manager said. DePuma went on to say the real wow moment for him was when they received the very first data package from the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle. “It confirmed all our hard work had paid off and PRAM was working in orbit, and delivering valuable data to advance space solar and power beaming research.”
During the past year, researchers have been collecting and analyzing the data that has been transmitted. Power beaming is an efficient point-to-point transfer of electrical energy across free space by a directive electromagnetic beam. This past January, Jaffe and DePuma were part of a paper, “Microwave and Millimeter Wave Power Beaming” which was led by Chris Rodenbeck, Ph.D. from NRL’s Radar Division, reported data from the first in-orbit flight test of a solar-to-RF “sandwich module.”