The team, made up of engineers from Japan’s University of Tsukuba Nagoya University who is investigating alternative forms of propulsion has come up with an intriguingly odd idea: powering rockets by blasting them with a focused microwave beam from the ground.
The team managed to power a small, free-flying quadrotor drone while it was in the air with a powerful microwave.
The researchers explain that they weren’t sure how feasible the idea was prior to their experiment. But after tinkering around, they think that the microwave beams could not only make it possible to lift up an aircraft but could even someday bring rockets all the way to orbit.
The team wasn’t the first to experiment with powering a spacecraft with a microwave beam.
But it was the first to attempt it in decades, meaning they had more powerful beams, better technology, and more advanced tracking systems at their disposal, allowing the experiment to soar where others had failed.
They used a sophisticated beam-tracking system to ensure that the drone received as much of the microwave power as possible and to further increase the transmission efficiency, we carefully tuned the phase of the microwaves using an analog phase shifter that was synchronized with GPS units.
These are early days for the unusual propulsion technique as the overall energy efficiency of the experiment was just 0.43 percent, but the team did manage to transfer enough energy to the drone to keep it aloft.
Reference- Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, Tsukuba Nagoya University PR, Futurism, Popular Mechanics