According to a U.S. Air Force news release, the agency is working on a satellite capable of beaming solar energy to Earth.
The part known as 'Helios' is a commoditized spacecraft called ESPAStar and will act as a 'bus' for Arachne, which includes the components required to handle the energy, communication, thermal and attitude control systems in the spacecraft. As it flies to orbit, the bus holds the payload in place and is the platform on which the experiments are carried out.
“Helios provides a known platform from which to demonstrate space-based power beaming technologies and concepts,” explained Kevin Bryant, Arachne program manager.
The Arachne spacecraft is made up of Helios and SSPRITE, which is the first of the experimental prototypes comprising the SSPIDR project, a series of ground and flight tests planned to mature the various critical technologies required to construct a solar power beaming system based on operational space. Innovative "backpack tiles" and possibility of transmitting this energy to and from the earth into usable electricity, Arashne will demonstrate the potential of emerging technologies which promote the capacity of converting energy from sun to radio frequencies (RF).
Testing and learning what software, mechanical components and electrical wiring or harnesses are required for the best interface with the bus and the construction of a working spacecraft is the next big step. This also enables the I&T Team of AFRL to begin to make any necessary changes to the bus to support the task.
“Some of the known modifications the team will make include upgrading the communications system, enhancing its ability to operate in Low Earth Orbit,” said Kyle Gleichmann, Arachne chief engineer. “This will increase our ability to send commands to the spacecraft and receive routine telemetry from the vehicle; uploading flight software used on previous flight experiments, and optimizing the power and communication interfaces between Helios and the primary payload, SSPRITE.”
AFRL will make some changes to the bus as Helios will be AFRL's first use of an ESPA platform in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
The spacecraft Arachne with the Helios ESPA ring is expected to begin in 2024 and the solar beam experiment SSPRITE.