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Innovations by Radio Amateurs - Pentagon scientists successfully test solar panel in space

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio News' started by W0PV, Feb 24, 2021.

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  1. W0PV

    W0PV Ham Member QRZ Page

    The article below is the most recent example of continued research & development originating from ground-breaking professional work accomplished by radio amateurs.

    Based on invention by Chip W1YW like described in this past article, and also the DoD engineering program of Paul KJ4IKI, a subject of a previous QRZ News thread and interview.

    IMO, inspiration and advancements in science and state-of-the-art engineering like this by members of the Amateur Radio Service continue to underline its significant relevance and value.

    73, John, WØPV

    Pentagon scientists successfully test solar panel in space collecting energy that could one day be beamed to anywhere on Earth

    Scientists working for the Pentagon have successfully tested a solar panel the size of a pizza box in space, designed as a prototype for a future system to send electricity from space back to any point on Earth.

    An artist's concept of a space-based solar power system beaming to military and remote installations.

    The panel -- known as a Photovoltaic Radiofrequency Antenna Module (PRAM) -- was first launched in May 2020, attached to the Pentagon's X-37B unmanned drone, to harness light from the sun to covert to electricity. The drone is looping Earth every 90 minutes.


    The Photovoltaic Direct Current to Radio Frequency Antenna Module (PRAM) sits inside thermal vacuum chamber during testing at the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC.

    The panel is designed to make best use of the light in space, which doesn't pass through the atmosphere, and so retains the energy of blue waves, making it more powerful than the sunlight that reaches Earth. Blue light diffuses on entry into the atmosphere, which is why the sky appears blue.
    "We're getting a ton of extra sunlight in space just because of that," said Paul Jaffe KJ4IKI, a co-developer of the project.

    The latest experiments show that the 12x12-inch panel is capable of producing about 10 watts of energy for transmission, Jaffe told CNN. That's about enough to power a tablet computer.

    But the project envisages an array of dozens of panels and, if scaled up, its success could revolutionize both how power is generated and distributed to remote corners of the globe. It could contribute to the Earth's largest grid networks, Jaffe said.

    "Some visions have space solar matching or exceeding the largest power plants today -- multiple gigawatts -- so enough for a city," he said.

    The unit has yet to actually send power directly back to Earth, but that technology has already been proven. If the project develops into huge kilometers-wide space solar antennae, it could beam microwaves that would then be converted into fuel-free electricity to any part of the planet at a moment's notice.

    "The unique advantage the solar power satellites have over any other source of power is this global transmissibility," Jaffe said. "You can send power to Chicago and a fraction of a second later, if you needed, send it instead to London or Brasilia."


    Chris Depuma (left), gives guidance on the PRAM in Washington, DC, on October 10, 2019.

    But a key factor to be proven, Jaffe said, is economic viability. "Building hardware for space is expensive," he said. "And those [costs] are, in the last 10 years, finally starting to come down."

    There are some advantages to building in space. "On Earth, we have this pesky gravity, which is helpful in that it keeps things in place, but is a problem when you start to build very large things, as they have to support their own weight," Jaffe said.

    The mission of the US' X-37B space plane is shrouded in secrecy, with the PRAM experiment being one of the few details known of its purpose. In January, Jaffe and PRAM co-leader Chris DePuma, released the first results of their experiments in IEEE Journal of Microwaves, which showed "the experiment is working," Jaffe said.

    The project has been funded and developed under the Pentagon, the Operational Energy Capability Improvement Fund (OECIF) and the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC.

    A solution during natural disasters

    The temperature at which the PRAM functions is key. Colder electronics are more efficient, Jaffe said, degrading in their ability to generate power as they heat up. The X-37B's low-earth orbit means it spends about half of each 90-minute loop in darkness, and therefore in the cold.

    Any future version of the PRAM might sit in a geosynchronous orbit, which means a loop takes about a day, in which the device would mostly be in sunlight, as it is travelling much further away from Earth.

    The experiment used heaters to try to keep the PRAM at a constant, warm temperature to prove how efficient it would be if it were circling 36,000 kilometers from Earth.

    It worked. "The next logical step is to scale it up to a larger area that collects more sunlight, that converts more into microwaves," Jaffe said.

    Beyond that, scientists will have to test sending the energy back to Earth. The panels would know precisely where to send the microwaves -- and not accidentally fire it at the wrong target -- using a technique called "retro-directive beam control." This sends a pilot signal up from the destination antenna on Earth to the panels in space.

    The microwave beams would only be transmitted once the pilot signal was received, meaning the receiver was in place below and ready. The microwaves -- which would easily be turned into electricity on Earth -- could be sent to any point on the planet with a receiver, Jaffe said.

    He also allayed any future fear that bad actors could use the technology to create a giant space laser. The size of antenna needed to direct the energy to create a destructive beam would be so huge, it would be noticed in the years or months it took to be assembled. "It would be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible," he said, to weaponize the solar power from space.

    DePuma said the technology, if available today, would have immediate applications in natural disasters when normal infrastructure had collapsed. "My family lives in Texas and they're all living without power right now in the middle of a cold front because the grid is overloaded," DePuma said.

    "So if you had a system like this, you could redirect some power over there, and then my grandma would have heat in her house again."
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2021
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  2. W1YW

    W1YW Ham Member QRZ Page

    Their IEEE review paper clearly details an "aperture engine", which they call a "sandwich module".

    The previous discussions only showed one side of the "sandwich" That is now publicly disclosed in the new paper. It is identical to what I had described in 1998, and invented for satellites in 2009.

    The concept of an aperture engine was published in my work in 1998, and disclosure of application , including satellites(2009) can be found in extant patents 10014586, 10483649, 10854987 . Those NRL (US government) authors have not provided any record of these public 'source' publications on what they call a "sandwich module", essentially erasing my invention and pioneering effort.

    In the possibility that this is an inadvertant failure of attribution, I am writing the various NRL personnel to request their knowledge of "sandwich module" efforts before 1998 and 2009 respectfully.

    An aperture engine is so-called because it gathers/transforms power/energy of one form--solar irrradiance-- into (in this case) transmitted and radiated RF power. It is an 'engine', that use the surface to accomplish these dual attributes .

    The "sandwich module", particularly in this embodiment, is patent protected, and further efforts will be acknowledging that , or demonstrate prior art before the relevant dates.

    One hopes the government , through its personnel, is in a position to do the right and ethical thing, in a country where the "innovation economy" is the foundation of a nation's progress. Acknowledging and properly incorporating the IP is the foundation of that.

    My thoughts.

    In any case, I am glad to see one of my babies flying high and getting recognition in the world wide press. It is one invention, of several I have with RF and satellites.

    I am detailing these points so that others understand these aspects of the inventive process and the requirement to defend patents and disclose any relevant prior art. Not hubris; but process. I wish the other researchers well, upon acknowledgement and proper IP efforts.

    Chip W1YW
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2021
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  3. XE1CMP

    XE1CMP QRZ Member

    Haber si hay un diploma de membresía para mí saludos 73 desde
    M1WML likes this.
  4. W1YW

    W1YW Ham Member QRZ Page

    El diploma es una patente de mi amigo. Reconoce quién es el inventor y quién es el responsable. A menos que haya un arte anterior "nuevo", no hay desafío para eso.

    Chip W1YW
  5. WB8VLC

    WB8VLC Ham Member QRZ Page


    I wonder how long it will be before that conspiracy Kook Marjorie Taylor Greene latches on to this claiming that this is what started the forest fires in September over Labor day here in Oregon.

    All the while ignoring that fact that we had record 100 MPH + winds knocking trees into power lines, all the while ignoring the fact that PGE doesn't cut down trees that are contacting their power lines either.
    KC7HDE, M1WML, N7BWB and 1 other person like this.
  6. W1YW

    W1YW Ham Member QRZ Page

    I think the best way to look at this is how much integrated power could be directed at the ground. With such a small aperture engine panel its dang little... , and even then you would have to have a rectenna on the ground large enough to capture illumination of the transmitted beam.

    The cool thing about an aperture engine is that the collected solar POWER goes as the area, and the gain of the antenna goes as the area. So the transmitted ERP goes as (area)^2. Put another way, it goes as the diameter ^4 .That gets pretty big with increasing panels added...
    M1WML likes this.
  7. W1YW

    W1YW Ham Member QRZ Page

    Here is the key diagram from the "source" 1998 article on aperture engines. It even CALLS the layering a "sandwich" in the figure caption.

    If there is sufficient interest, I would be delighted to have the (two page) article placed as an attachment on this thread, if that is possible and OK with Fred et al. I am the author and copyright holder.

    Again, failure to acknowledge amounts to an erasure of invention and pioneering effort. That is not the premise under which --we-- grew up . We all have a right to be acknowledged for the positive and creative things we do.
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2021
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  8. N1BED

    N1BED XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    You need your lawyer on this, fast. So much I would love to share... but can't.
    W5LMM and M1WML like this.
  9. W1YW

    W1YW Ham Member QRZ Page

    This is an amateur radio forum: any and all formal efforts, if and when they occur, are outside this discussion.

    Amateur radio has, as part of its MISSION, the mandate to "enhance the radio art". Folks, especially our youth in ranks, need to know that YOU can make contributions to the radio art--without a Ph.D.; without a large contract 'vehicle'; without someone telling you whether you should or shouldn't do it.

    I am proud to be a ham. It gives me permission to think outside the box without fear of penalty. It is not an accident that fractal antennas, the invisibility cloak, and the aperture engine, amongst others, came from the mind of a ham radio operator.

    You have PERMISSION. GRANT it to yourself. Use it:)

    nrlapengcomparison copy.jpg

    What we CAN'T accept is failure to ACKNOWLEDGE the prior contributions of others.

    KJ4IKI 's work on aperture engines was published in 2013, and now in 2021. My defining "source" paper was published in 1998.

    Who came first?

    KJ4IKI’s 2013/2021 diagram (above) has a one-on- one replication of my published 1998 aperture engine concept.

    Compare this diagram and definition of a “sandwich module” with that of the aperture engine shown in post #7 .

    You can't 're-innovate' something that has already been around for 15 years, and you should never ever erase that fact--especially when the ' source' innovator is still alive.

    Having it show up as international news on CNN only exacerbates the disconnect of reality versus carefully placed perception.

    Chip W1YW
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2021
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  10. W0PV

    W0PV Ham Member QRZ Page

    Here is the entire 1998 article that Chip @W1AW published that references an "Aperture Engine" or what I could also call a power translator. I made an image of it for this thread but not sure if it will display satisfactorily, so have uploaded a PDF file as well.

    Can't help but wonder if there may be negative bias or neglect of it in DoD circles from being associated with SETI rather than an endeavor considered more mainstream :(


    Attached Files:

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  11. W1YW

    W1YW Ham Member QRZ Page

    I'm a little frazzled by all this--it really was a shock to my family to see my work credited on CNN to someone else-- so I want to give it a few days before I comment further.

    I've had almost 25 years to think about how aperture engines can be used, and its a very interesting list.

    Thanks for putting the paper up. Some may be interested in the allusion to the use of aperture engines to SETI. The conclusion is fascinating, because it says that a moderate sized solar farm, if replaced with aperture engines, can be used as a transmission 'beacon' that can be detected across much of Milky Way. We, for example, could do it now if we wanted to.

    You don't need to be super-advanced to make the LONGEST QSO....

    In any case, this paper is the first place that a "sandwich module" concept is disclosed, more aptly and 'source' named as an "aperture engine". It is defined generally in this 1998 paper-- and not uniquely to SETI.

    The satellite application is disclosed in the patent(s) and dates to 2009.

    Chip W1YW
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  12. W1YW

    W1YW Ham Member QRZ Page


    I am NOT Hiram Percy Maxim :)!

    Try W1 Y W :rolleyes:
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2021
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  13. NN4RH

    NN4RH Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    I don't know about this particular case, but over the years I've observed a general decline in the studiousness of background literature searching.

    I've been there, myself. A few times. Didn't make CNN, but still peeved me off.
    M1WML likes this.
  14. W1YW

    W1YW Ham Member QRZ Page

    I have high respect for the NRL. It is important at this stage not to confuse possible oversight by individuals, with an institutional policy. I even respect retired NRL folks:)!

    I note that the "sandwich module" was a thesis topic, at least in part, for Paul Jaffe, long after 1998.

    I can imagine several reasonable ways in which this problem could be resolved. The next step is theirs.
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2021
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  15. W0PV

    W0PV Ham Member QRZ Page

    OOF-DA! :eek: My bad. Been a busy a.m. o_O

    Even the Empire shows respect for W1 ...

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