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LASERS POWER PLANES, DRONES

Somewhere, Nikola Tesla is smiling.More than a century ago, Tesla - as famous for his discovery of alternating current as for his claim of inventing a giant death ray - dazzled onlookers by sending bolts of electricity crackling 30 feet through the air. To him this was proof that one day information and electricity would be sent across the skies instead of through copper cable.Since then, Tesla's intellectual descendents have fantasized about, and dabbled in, the possibility of reliably transmitting power without wires. After decades of on-again, off-again experimentation, this Tesla-inspired dream is now showing signs of becoming real, at least in a modest way.In September, in a hangar in Huntsville, Ala., NASA engineers flew a small propeller-driven model plane powered from the ground by a beam of laser light. The Army, meanwhile, is looking to finance research into laser-charged drone aircraft. And Boeing engineers have already built a tiny lunar rover that runs on laser-transmitted energy.My New York Times story has the details.THERE'S MORE: The "power-beaming" crowd has always been a group of, shall we say, ambitious thinkers. Case in point: The Advanced Concepts Team of the European Space Agency proposed a network of 1,870 microwave power-beaming satellites, each 15 kilometers long 136 times the size of the completed International Space Station. This constellation would send energy to 103 receiving bases scattered across the globe, each 27 by 30 kilometers big.AND MORE: As if on cue, Dr. David Criswell -- the director of the Institute for Space Systems Operations at the University of Houston -- talked up power-beaming to Congress on Thursday."Solar power bases will be built on the Moon that collect a small fraction of the Moon's dependable solar power and convert it into power beams that will dependably deliver lunar solar power to receivers on Earth," he said.

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