• New “step” architecture for space solar module (patent pending) better radiates heat
  • Module four-times more efficient at converting sunlight to microwave energy than closest competitor
  • Assembled in satellite array, modules could beam power to on-Earth receiver, providing sustainable, base-load power for a city or military missions

NRL's Invention

  • Patent pending step variation of a “sandwich” module.
  • Sandwich module receives solar energy on one side with a photovoltaic panel, electronics in the middle convert that direct current to a radiofrequency, and the other side has an antenna to beam power away.
  • The architecture of the “step” design opens up the sandwich to look more like a zig-zag. This allows heat to radiate more efficiently, so the module can receive greater concentrations of sunlight without overheating.
  • Small size and light components control costs of launching mass in space.
Left: sandwich with photovoltaic panel, wiring, antenna. Right: step design, which better radiates excess heat, patent pending. (Photos: Jamie Hartman, NRL)
Left: sandwich with photovoltaic panel, wiring, antenna. Right: step design, which better radiates excess heat, patent pending.
(Photos: Jamie Hartman, NRL)

Opportunities for Commercial/Government Application

SPS-ALPHA concept for space solar power: reflectors concentrate sunlight onto module array. Satellite beams power to receiver from geosynchronous orbit. (Image: John C. Mankins)
SPS-ALPHA concept for space solar power: reflectors concentrate sunlight onto module array. Satellite beams power to receiver from geosynchronous orbit. (Image: John C. Mankins)
  • Space Solar Power Satellite: hundreds of sandwich modules could be launched into space, and then assembles into a satellite array using robots. Could provide base-load power for a military installation or a city—even on a cloudy day, even at night. Step module a unique solution for preventing problem of electronics overheating.
  • Testing for space hardware:satellites could use reflectors to concentrate energy on fewer photovoltaic panels, potentially reducing the number needed to meet energy requirement. NRL has vacuum tube asset and experience validating inventions in space-like conditions.
  • Large phased-array radars: concept of building large structures in space from modules. The image quality of a radar is related to how big the antennas are and how much power the radar puts out; with many antennas, each powered by the sun, a huge and heavy bundle of wires that spreads out to each one is no longer required.
  • Stratosphere Solar Power: instead of deploying module to space, could redesign for a very high altitude in the stratosphere.
  • Other applications include the conversion of direct current to radiofrequency, microwave power beaming (including as first demonstrated in 1964 to power an aircraft), satellite propulsion, and thermal management architecture.

Demonstrated Demand

  • Energy security for military: Department of Defense (DoD) has demonstrated commitment to energy security investments, including solar power for installations, Experimental Forward Operating Bases, and humanitarian assistance.
  • Reliable, sustainable power for cities: The International Academy of Astronautics has predicted space solar power could be viable within 30 years. In 2009, the California utility company, PG&E, committed to buying such power from Solaren by 2016.
  • International: two other projects have built modules in Japan (not tested in space, less efficient than NRL); Russia, China, India, and some European countries also interested.

Technology Status

“One of our key, unprecedented contributions has been testing under space-like conditions,” says Dr. Paul Jaffe. He holds a module he designed for space solar power in front of the customized vacuumchamber used to test it. (Photo: Jamie Hartman, NRL)
“One of our key, unprecedented contributions has been testing under space-like conditions,” says Dr. Paul Jaffe. He holds a module he designed for space solar power in front of the customized vacuumchamber used to test it. (Photo: Jamie Hartman, NRL)

Licensing
US Published Patent is available for License to companies with commercial interest. Collaborative research and development is available under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA).

Lead Inventor
Dr. Paul Jaffe, Spacecraft Engineering, NRL

Patent
U.S. Published Patent No. 20130099599A1: “Thermally Efficient Power Conversion Modules for Space Solar Power” published on 4/25/2013 on behalf of Paul L. Jaffe, Michael W. Nurnberger, Michael A. Brown

Journal Articles

  • P. Jaffe, J. McSpadden, “Energy Conversion and Transmission Modules for Space Solar Power,” Proc. IEEE, vol.101, no.6, pp.1424-1437, June 2013.
  • P. I. Jaffe, “A Sunlight to Microwave Power Transmission Module Prototype for Space Solar Power,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Maryland, United States, 2013.

Find Out More

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Photo Gallery

Dr. Paul Jaffe; (NRL Code 8243) standing in front of NRL’s concentrated solar vacuum testing facility with a prototype of a patent-pending “step” sandwich conversion module for space solar power.
Dr. Paul Jaffe; (NRL Code 8243) standing in front of NRL’s concentrated solar vacuum testing facility with a prototype of a patent-pending “step” sandwich conversion module for space solar power.
Dr. Paul Jaffe; (NRL Code 8243) standing in front of NRL’s concentrated solar vacuum testing facility with a prototype of a patent-pending “step” sandwich conversion module for space solar power.
Dr. Paul Jaffe; (NRL Code 8243) standing in front of NRL’s concentrated solar vacuum testing facility with a prototype of a patent-pending “step” sandwich conversion module for space solar power.
Dr. Paul Jaffe; (NRL Code 8243) standing in front of NRL’s concentrated solar vacuum testing facility with a prototype of a patent-pending “step” sandwich conversion module for space solar power.
Dr. Paul Jaffe; (NRL Code 8243) standing in front of NRL’s concentrated solar vacuum testing facility with a prototype of a patent-pending “step” sandwich conversion module for space solar power.
Dr. Paul Jaffe; (NRL Code 8243) standing in front of NRL’s concentrated solar vacuum testing facility with a prototype of a patent-pending “step” sandwich conversion module for space solar power.
Dr. Paul Jaffe; (NRL Code 8243) standing in front of NRL’s concentrated solar vacuum testing facility with a prototype of a patent-pending “step” sandwich conversion module for space solar power.
A prototype of a “sandwich” conversion module for space solar power being placed in NRL’s concentrated solar vacuum testing facility.
Dr. Paul Jaffe; (NRL Code 8243) placing a prototype of a “sandwich” conversion module for space solar power into NRL’s concentrated solar vacuum testing facility.
A prototype of a “sandwich” conversion module for space solar power shown in front of NRL’s concentrated solar vacuum testing facility.
Dr. Paul Jaffe; (NRL Code 8243) seen in front of NRL’s concentrated solar vacuum testing facility with a prototype of a “sandwich” conversion module for space solar power.
Dr. Paul Jaffe; (NRL Code 8243) seen in front of NRL’s concentrated solar vacuum testing facility with a prototype of a “sandwich” conversion module for space solar power.
Dr. Paul Jaffe; (NRL Code 8243) installing a prototype of a “sandwich” conversion module for space solar power in NRL’s concentrated solar vacuum testing facility.
Dr. Paul Jaffe; (NRL Code 8243) installing a prototype of a “sandwich” conversion module for space solar power in NRL’s concentrated solar vacuum testing facility.
Dr. Paul Jaffe; (NRL Code 8243) installing a prototype of a “sandwich” conversion module for space solar power in NRL’s concentrated solar vacuum testing facility.
Dr. Paul Jaffe; (NRL Code 8243) installing a prototype of a “sandwich” conversion module for space solar power in NRL’s concentrated solar vacuum testing facility.
Dr. Paul Jaffe; (NRL Code 8243) installing a prototype of a “sandwich” conversion module for space solar power in NRL’s concentrated solar vacuum testing facility.
Dr. Paul Jaffe; (NRL Code 8243) installing a prototype of a “sandwich” conversion module for space solar power in NRL’s concentrated solar vacuum testing facility.
Dr. Paul Jaffe; (NRL Code 8243) installing a prototype of a “sandwich” conversion module for space solar power in NRL’s concentrated solar vacuum testing facility.
NRL’s prototype of a “sandwich” conversion module for space solar power, shown with harnessing that carries temperatures and other measurements during testing.
NRL’s prototype of a “sandwich” conversion module for space solar power, shown with harnessing that carries temperatures and other measurements during testing.
NRL’s prototype of a “sandwich” conversion module for space solar power.
NRL’s prototype of a “sandwich” conversion module for space solar power.
NRL’s prototype of a “sandwich” conversion module for space solar power.
NRL’s prototype of a “sandwich” conversion module for space solar power.
NRL’s prototype of a “sandwich” conversion module for space solar power.
NRL’s prototype of a patent-pending “step” sandwich conversion module solar panel for space solar power.
NRL’s prototype of a patent-pending “step” sandwich conversion module solar panel for space solar power.
NRL’s prototype of a patent-pending “step” sandwich conversion module for space solar power.
NRL’s prototype of a patent-pending “step” sandwich conversion module for space solar power.
NRL’s prototype of a patent-pending “step” sandwich conversion module for space solar power.
The power transmission antenna face of NRL’s prototype of a patent-pending “step” sandwich conversion module for space solar power, shown with harnessing that carries temperatures and other measurements during testing.
The power transmission antenna face of NRL’s prototype of a patent-pending “step” sandwich conversion module for space solar power, shown with harnessing that carries temperatures and other measurements during testing.
The power transmission antenna face of NRL’s prototype of a patent-pending “step” sandwich conversion module for space solar power, shown with harnessing that carries temperatures and other measurements during testing.
The power and microwave electronics panel of NRL’s prototype of a patent-pending “step” sandwich conversion module for space solar power.
The power and microwave electronics panel of NRL’s prototype of a patent-pending “step” sandwich conversion module for space solar power.
The power and microwave electronics panel of NRL’s prototype of a patent-pending “step” sandwich conversion module for space solar power.
Dr. Paul Jaffe, Space Electronics Systems Development Division; Spacecraft Engineering; NRL Code 8243
Dr. Paul Jaffe, Space Electronics Systems Development Division; Spacecraft Engineering; NRL Code 8243