...Power From The Ground...

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But while ATP grapples with the problem of heavy batteries and developing fuel-cell technology, NASA researchers have successfully tested a model electric plane that leaves all that bulky stuff behind. Staff at the Marshall Space Flight Center kept the 11-ounce balsa-and-Mylar contraption flying by pointing an invisible laser beam at it. The Laser Beaming Project, a joint effort of NASA's Marshall and Dryden centers and the University of Alabama, aims the laser at a photovoltaic cell that converts it to the juice the electric motor needs. In last week's test, the plane was dropped from an elevated platform and the light beam kept it circling 60 feet above. It was the first time an "aircraft" had ever flown with laser energy from the ground, although researchers did manage a similar feat using a searchlight last year. Now, depending on someone on the ground to keep power flowing in your airplane isn't likely to appeal to most pilots but the researchers do have some potential applications in mind. For instance, high-altitude and long-endurance missions for remote sensing and atmospheric monitoring could use the practically limitless power to keep unmanned aircraft in the air for extended periods. Commercial uses might include unmanned aircraft cellphone, television or internet signal relay. And since a laser will shine almost limitlessly into space, beams could power space tugs or even an airplane to fly around Mars.