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Laser Power Beaming: A Solution to DoD Energy Challenges 9/13/11. Scott Milburn [email protected] 253.872.3300. Outline. Laser power beaming overview LaserMotive background Power beaming applications. Power Beaming: Crazy Idea. Laser-Launched Rockets.

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Laser power beaming a solution to dod energy challenges 9 13 11

Laser Power Beaming: A Solution to DoD Energy Challenges9/13/11

Scott Milburn

[email protected]



Laser power beaming overview

LaserMotive background

Power beaming applications

Power beaming crazy idea
Power Beaming: Crazy Idea

Laser-Launched Rockets

Space-Based Solar Power

Laser power schematic
Laser Power Schematic

“Invisible extension cord in the sky”

Detailed schematic
Detailed Schematic

“Invisible extension cord in the sky”


  • Receiver

    • Power Density: 1 kW/kg (~0.61 HP/lb)

      • Includes thermal radiator, assumes air flow

    • Energy Density: Infinite (no time/fuel limit)

    • Temperatures below ~80°C

    • 50% light-to-electricity efficiency

  • Transmitter

    • Compact

    • 60% electricity-to-light efficiency (demo’d to 70%+)

    • 20,000+ hour lifetime for diode laser

  • Potential performance

    • Range out to 5-10km with diode lasers

    • Range to 10km-100km+ with fiber lasers

    • Power scales up (and down) linearly

      • Add modular units for more power

  • Limitations

    • Line of sight

      • Weather

      • Atmospheric turbulence near ground level

    • Efficiency

      • Currently ~20%-25% end-to-end system efficiency

      • May increase beyond 30% in ~5 years, potential for 50%+ in 10+ years

Company history
Company History

Founded Jan. ‘07

Prototype in Mojave


(Nov. ‘09)

2people full time

(Jan. ’10)

1 kilometer

distance for

NASA prize

Won $900K from NASA for 2009 Power Beaming Challenge


  • Decades of experience across relevant fields

    Tom Nugent – President, co-founder

    • 15+ years advanced technology development and team leadership

      Dr. Jordin Kare – Chief Scientist, co-founder

    • 40 years experience in lasers and optics

    • 1st diode laser power beaming demonstration 1996

    • PhD physics

      Dave Bashford – VP Operations

    • 30+ years fabrication and manufacturing

    • Both R&D lab and production line setup

      Scott Milburn – COO

    • 30+ years in business, law, technology, and finance

    • Experienced in growing multiple startups

  • Plus 9 others: core team from NASA Centennial Challenge (small biz owners, machinists, programmers, etc.)

State of technology 2011
State of Technology: 2011

  • In 2010 we reached TRL ~7 for UAVs

    • 12.5 hour continuous flight of VTOL UAV (quadrocopter)

    • “Hands off” (nearly) operation with fully automated acquisition and tracking

    • In-flight battery recharge

    • “Class 1” eye-safe at ground level

    • 800 W/kg receiver specific power

Select applications
Select Applications

  • InvisiTower

    • instantly deployable, easily transportable, observation tower

  • Power over Fiber

    • Where copper wire is impractical

    • Underwater, tethered UAVs, modular satellites

  • UAVs

    • Fixed wing (airplanes)

    • Rotary wing (helicopters)

    • Lighter than air (aerostats, airships)

  • Remote Sensors & Communication Towers

    • Perimeter control

  • Field personnel

    • Reduce battery load

  • Forward Operating Bases

    • Save lives and cost by reducing fuel convoys

Invisitower overview
InvisiTower Overview

  • Persistent “tower” for ISR and/or communications relay

  • VTOL electric vehicle powered and controlled via tether

    • Automatically controlled to hold position in wind, etc.

    • Brushless direct drive motors: zero maintenance

  • Laser power delivered over optical fiber, converted to DC on vehicle

    • Dramatically lower weight than wire; enables higher altitudes

    • Thinner cable reduces wind drag

    • Lightning-safe (nonconducting)

  • Self-deploying, fully recoverable

Invisitower capabilities and scaling
InvisiTower Capabilities and Scaling

  • Initial system (based on COTS vehicle):

    • ~100 g payload capacity  

    • <200 W vehicle power

    • Up to 10 W payload power

    • Flies in sustained 20+ mph wind 

    • Vehicle-portable ground station: 

      • < 200 lbs

      • 3’ x 2.5’ x 2’ enclosure

      • < 1.5 kW input (120 AC/24 or 48 DC)

  • Interchangeable payloads  

    • Immediate:  HD video

    • Planned:  IR imaging/night vision  

    • Communications transciever or relay  

    • Future:  Radar, illumination, cellular base station

  • System is scaleable to larger or smaller payload capacities

    • Man portable (micro-vehicle)  

      • All-electric power transfer for low altitude, low cost

      • Laser for high altitude, high performance  

    • Higher altitudes (e.g., 1,500+ feet) and/or larger payloads

      • Larger single- or multirotor platforms

      • Powered aerostats

Invisitower features
InvisiTower Features

  • Low observability

  • 24/7 persistence

    • Lasting weeks or months

  • Rapidly deployable

  • Fast recovery

  • Mobile and easy to relocate

  • Low training requirement

  • Automated position, orientation, & altitude control

    • NO piloting needed

  • All weather

  • Small operational burden

    • Low cost to operate

  • Controllable position

    • Variable altitude

    • Ability to offset horizontally from ground station

  • Networkable/clusterable

  • Secure data feed from sensors

    • Via fiber optic cable

  • Dedicated or shared data in real time

  • Fiber optics plus enclosed photovoltaics means NO laser safety issues

Invisitower applications military
InvisiTower Applications: Military

  • Combat outpost

    • Persistent area surveillance

  • Field communications relay or transceiver

    • Higher altitude than truck-deployable towers (and much more compact)

    • Less expensive than manned helicopter

    • More portable and far less expensive than MARTS

    • Could be integrated with HMMV/MRAP for “instant radio tower” capability whenever needed

    • Extend range of radio comms

  • Base perimeter security & sensing

  • Enhanced observation of training/exercises

Power over fiber
Power Over Fiber

  • Laser power delivered over fiber optic cable – much lighter than copper wire

  • Projected distances/power levels:

    • 250m: 500W

    • 500m: 466W

    • 1km: 362W

    • 5km: 113W

    • 10km: 34W

  • Splitting the beam to send it down multiple paths will probably result in a 60+% power reduction for each of two branches coming off the split (e.g. 100W arriving at the splitter, ≈40W coming out on each of two legs.

Power over fiber applications
Power-Over-Fiber Applications

Power for underwater drones and sensors

Tethered UAVs

Modular satellites

Uavs stationary platforms
UAVs: Stationary Platforms

  • Eternal laser-powered UAVs for communications, remote sensing, safety

    • High-altitude observation

    • Atmospheric satellites

    • Remain on station indefinitely

Uavs unlimited patrol
UAVs: Unlimited Patrol

Missions of unlimited duration

Convoy protection

Fly off beam to survey or check for IEDs, then re-acquire beam and recharge in flight

Uavs multi isr
UAVs: Multi-ISR

Recharge without landing

Missions of almost unlimited duration

Multiple charging stations (e.g. along US border)

Airborne transmitter can recharge from above

Point to point laser power links
Point-to-Point Laser Power Links

Operational Capability

  • Deliver power to unattended sensors without wires

    • Perimeter security, intrusion detection

    • Minimize installation costs, eliminate battery replacement

  • Power isolated equipment or facilities

    • Communications relays

    • Guard posts/inspection stations

Technical Approach

  • Laser power transmitter

    • Near-IR; low visibility

    • Dedicated per-user or time-shared

  • Photovoltaic receiver

    • Small area (1-10%) vs. solar panel

    • Concealable; needs only line-of-sight to transmitter

  • Local rechargeable batteries

    • Power through outages (rain, beam interruptions) or for time-shared source

  • Transmission efficiency ~20%

Air to ground recharging of deployed devices
Air-to-Ground Recharging of Deployed Devices

Operational Capability

  • Periodically recharge deployed devices (e.g., unattended ground sensors, communications relays, jammers, ground forces’ equipment) from manned aircraft or UAVs

    • Power receivers much smaller than solar panels and require only narrow-angle line of sight to open air

    • Receiver designed to minimize hostile discovery

  • Standoff ranges up to ~10 km

  • Low to very low observables

  • Integrated active or passive optical communications

Technical Approach

  • Near-IR laser source on aircraft

    • Can use 1.5-2 um wavelength for reduced observability

  • Photovoltaic receiver, >10 kW/m2 peak output

    • <<1% charging duty cycle feasible: minutes per week

  • Retroreflector aiming target

    • Can incorporate anti-detection features

  • Transmit/receive handshaking and imaging-based safety systems to prevent personnel hazards

Current military government discussions
Current Military/Government Discussions

  • Other military and civilian groups interested in funding product development or seeing demonstration projects.

  • Groups we’re talking with include:

  • NASA Office of Chief Technologist (OCT) – contract launched 8/25 for space applications – powering LEO satellites and laser launch. Follow on BAA for technology development in early 2012.

  • U.S. Army Rapid Equipping Force (REF) – planning to order five InvisiTower units for ATEC testing

  • Air Force Special Operations Command HQ presentation on 9/9/11

  • Office of Naval Research – demo of power over fiber this Fall

  • U.S. Army G2 – evaluating a variety of applications

  • U.S. Army UAS Program Office

  • Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory- extended UAS endurance

  • International Lunar Research Park / NASA Ames

  • Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Propulsion Directorate

  • National Security Space Office (NSSO)

  • U.S. Navy PACOM


Scott Milburn

[email protected]


Science fiction becoming science and enabling a variety of new power applications

Unlimited electrical power becomes available where it was previously limited or unavailable

Extended mission duration, reduced fuel demands, greater secrecy, reduced danger to personnel