When the X-37B launches on May 16, it will carry a technology that could eventually allow drones to stay aloft indefinitely anywhere on the globe.
The shadowy X-37B, the Air Force’s unmanned, reusable spacecraft, is set to launch for its sixth flight on May 16 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. While most of the payloads set for the flight are standard fare for space experiments, at least the ones that are disclosed, one of them has immense potential implications for the future of remote power generation and especially long-endurance unmanned aircraft propulsion.
The X-37B’s upcoming mission is known as both Orbital Test Vehicle-6 (OTV-6) and U.S. Space Force-7 (USSF-7). It will carry out missions that will assess the effects of cosmic radiation and other “space effects” on plant seeds and various material samples. According to a Space Force press release, which went out on May 6, another payload aboard the X-37B will be an experimental system designed by the Naval Research Laboratory that is capable of capturing solar power and beaming that energy back to Earth in the form of microwaves.
While the press releases of the Department of Defense and the Space Force are scant on details, the Naval Research Laboratory’s head of beamed power has explicitly stated in the past that this system has enormous implications when it comes to long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). In addition, it could allow satellites to provide reliable power anywhere on the planet or even to spacecraft or other satellites in orbit.
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