First In-Space Laser Power Beaming Experiment Surpasses 100 Days of Successful On-Orbit Operations

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory’s (NRL) Space Wireless Energy Laser Link (SWELL) surpassed 100 days of successful on-orbit laser operations on June 29, 2023, coinciding with the NRL’s 100th birthday celebration. Launched on March 14, 2023, this experiment represents the first successful instance of laser power beaming in space. It resides on the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the U.S. Department of Defense Space Test Program (STP) H9 mission.

SWELL has continuously provided about 1.5 watts at the power-beaming receiver’s output with an end-to-end efficiency of around 11%, more than ten times the team’s efficiency goal. The power beaming link distance is 1.45 meters. To NRL’s knowledge, in addition to being the first laser power beaming demonstration in space, this also represents the highest power, longest distance, and most efficient power beaming demonstration in orbit of any type.

“Though small in scale, SWELL is a critical first step in investigating laser power beaming in space. We’re ecstatic with its ongoing success in orbit,” said Chris DePuma, SWELL Program Manager. “This is the first step towards addressing the challenges of implementing power-beaming links for lunar exploration and other applications.”

SWELL is sponsored by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition & Sustainment (OUSD (A&S)) Operational Energy Capability Improvement Fund (OECIF), with additional support from the Naval Center for Space Technology at NRL. The Department of Defense Space Test Program supported launch and spacecraft integration.

Power beaming delivers energy via electromagnetic waves, avoiding the need for wires or the transport of batteries or fuel. This allows energy to be sent at the speed of light. SWELL expands on previous NRL-led power beaming efforts, such as SCOPE-O, that have demonstrated power beaming’s safety and feasibility on the ground, and a prior wireless power demonstration in orbit launched in 2019 and operated in 2020 called LEctenna.To NRL’s knowledge, the 2020 LEctenna demonstration was the first instance of wireless power transmission in orbit. OECIF supported all of these efforts.

“SWELL continues to operate nominally, showing so far that power-beaming links can operate for sustained periods to support mission operations,” said Elias Wilcoski, SWELL Flight Operations Lead. “After running continuously for weeks, the telemetry remains rock solid.”

“It’s exciting to see not only our success but that of teams across the country and worldwide in advancing power-beaming technology,” said Paul Jaffe, SWELL Principal Investigator. “It appears to be only a matter of time before power beaming is used to move energy to address critical challenges facing our world and beyond.”

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