The US Naval Research Laboratory’s (NRL) first in-space laser power beaming experiment is set for launch aboard SpaceX’s Dragon cargo vehicle.

Referred to as Space Wireless Energy Laser Link (SWELL), the experiment is part of the US Department of Defense’s Space Test Programme H9 mission.

It is supported by Operational Energy Capability Improvement Fund and sponsored by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition & Sustainment.

The mission, carrying SWELL, is for one year. During this period, the experiment will gather data using a laser power beaming link in space.

It is also expected to deliver data that can showcase the functioning of hardware in the space while specifying the possible constraints that can have an impact on the future operational systems’ deployment.

SWELL principal investigator and electronics engineer Paul Jaffe said: “With this modest experiment, we will identify key focus areas for developing links of greater power and longer distance for space.

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“By employing laser transmitters and photovoltaic receivers, power beaming links will be established that will pave the way for rapid, resilient and flexible energy delivery systems.”

Additionally, the experiment will explore various potential challenges that can affect the viability of power beaming for space applications.

The effort will help in assessing the possibility of leveraging this power-beaming capability to address future energy challenges on Earth.

SWELL programme manager Chris DePuma said: “This is the next step in extending this capability for space, lunar and planetary applications.

“Power beaming is poised as a critical enabler for power distribution on the Moon and elsewhere in space.”