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Pentagon Selects Airborne Power Beaming Project Contenders

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has selected three firms for the first round of an airborne wireless energy transmission development program announced last year.

RTX Corporation, Draper Laboratory, and BEAM Co. will design and develop wireless optical power relays for the Persistent Optical Wireless Energy Relay (POWER) program.

Program Aims

The program aims to develop a speed-of-light adaptive energy network for more efficient high-altitude transmission.

It seeks to overcome conversion losses that occur when propagating waves are converted to electricity in traditional multiple-hop networks. 

“This project has the potential to advance power beaming by orders of magnitude, which could radically reshape society’s relationship with energy,” DARPA program head Paul Jaffe said

“A wireless energy web could unlock power from new and diverse sources, including from space, and rapidly and reliably connect them to energy-starved consumers.”

Futuristic Aircraft

Power beaming could drastically reduce the aircraft’s fuel storage and engine size, resulting in smaller and less expensive future aircraft with greater range and endurance.

“Energy underpins every human activity, including defense. We need ways to deliver energy that overcome the vulnerabilities and other shortcomings of our current paradigm,” Jaffe added. 

“The next leap forward in optical power beaming could hinge on relay technologies.”

Three-Phase Project

The 20-month phase one will explore conceptual designs, including benchtop demonstrations of critical technologies, with a potential addition of three months for risk reduction. 

The second phase involves open solicitation in 2025, focusing on integrating the technology with an existing platform for an airborne demonstration.

The final phase will aim to transmit 10 kilowatts of optical energy through an airborne optical pathway to a ground receiver 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the ground source laser.

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