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DARPA Will Use Laser Light Source To Power Small Aircraft On The Fly

[Estimated read time: 3 minutes]
  • DARPA has selected the Silent Falcon UAS Technologies for its power beaming demonstration. 
  • The aim of the project is refuel/recharge an electric unmanned aircraft while in flight, using a high-intensity laser beam. 

Although the notion of wireless power transmission is nearly two centuries old, it remains exciting as ever while developing technology pursues the idea. Recent advances in photovoltaic technologies and solid state amplification by stimulated emission of radiation present an opportunity to revisit this notion.

The implementation of the high intensity laser power beaming technique will extend the capabilities of applications where either a continuous delivery or an instantaneous amount of energy is required, but traditional conduction wires are prohibitively hazardous, expensive, unsuitable or impossible.

Now, DARPA has selected the Silent Falcon UAS Technologies for its SUPER PBD (Stand-off Ubiquitous Power/Energy Replenishment – Power Beaming Demonstration). The project aims to prove the feasibility of recharging an electric Unmanned Aircraft System while in flight through a laser beam. This would eliminate the landing requirement for refueling, and thus allowing for longer flight times.

Silent Falcon UAS Technologies

The company integrates the advanced technologies in RF communication, sensors, solar power, batteries, aeronautical design and composite materials. The Silent Falcon unmanned aircraft system is a long-range, long-endurance aerial platform for carrying advanced sensors that fetch, store and transmit the data required for defense and security ISR applications.

The Silent Falcon they have developed is open-interface, flexible system that can be easily integrated with advances in telemetry, processing, analysis, data acquisition, exploitation and dissemination.

It continues to expand the deployment of Silent Falcon in a wide range of applications, including military, commercial and public safety. Other partners in the project include SolAero Technologies Corporation, Optonicus LLC and Ascent Solar Technologies.

The main aim of the project is to make remote electric refueling possible in small aircraft via high-intensity laser power beaming. For war fighter drones, it will increase the mission operation time in contested and remote areas.

Moreover, the project is expected to set new standards for future power beaming applications, while demonstrating the capabilities and versatilities of the technology integrated in the unmanned aircraft.

Source: Silent Falcon | MTU

Benefits of Laser Power Beaming

Power beaming solves the serious issues of getting energy where it’s needed most. There are key tradeoffs in system implementation between:

  1. Safety and power density
  2. Aperture size and wavelength.

Applications of power beaming | Credit: LaserMotive

It’s also possible to utilize the technology in transmission satellites in high-illumination orbit. The satellites can convert solar energy into electrical energy, and store it in on-board batteries. When needed, the satellite can transmit stored energy to other orbits, including Very Low Earth Orbit and Low Earth Orbit. Also, it can be potentially utilized as data relay.

Read: DARPA Is Using AI To Develop Better Batteries and Explosives

The US Naval Research Laboratory has already tested sunlight-to-microwave converters in space-like conditions. The most efficient, and highest specific power sandwich conversion system till date is 5.8 Watt/kg (4 times greater than the previous record).

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