Normally the stuff of science fiction, it turns out that John C. Mankins, former manager of NASA’s Exploration Systems Research and Technology Program, performed a milestone demonstration of the critical technology enabling Space Solar Power: long-distance, solar-powered wireless power transmission.
According to the release on the Space Power Association site:
During the week of May 5-9, 2008, a key step on the path to Space-Based Solar Power was achieved: a “first-of-a-kind” long-range demonstration of solar-powered wireless power transmission using a solid-state phased array transmitter located on the U.S. island of Maui (on Haleakala) and receivers located on the island of Hawai’i (Mauna Loa) and airborne. The demonstration, achieved by Managed Energy Technologies LLC of the U.S. and sponsored by Discovery Communications, Inc., involved the transmission of RF energy over a distance of up to 148 kilometers (about 90 miles): almost 100-times further than a major 1970s power transmission performed by NASA in the Mojave Desert in California. The 2008 project (which lasted only 5 months and cost less than $1M) proved that real progress toward Space Solar Power can be made quickly, affordably and internationally, including key participants from the U.S. and Japan.
A number of key technologies were integrated and tested together for the first time in this project, including solar power modules, solid-state FET amplifiers, and a novel “retrodirective” phase control system. In addition, the project developed the first ever “field-deployable” system-developing new information regarding the prospective economics of space solar power / wireless power transmission systems
Will it ever become a reality? Who knows, but with this proof-of concept a significant barrier has been removed!