Jan 16, 2023

This bold new mission will try beaming solar power down from space

Posted by in categories: solar power, space, sustainability

The Space Solar Power Project (SSPP) began in 2011 when Donald Bren — philanthropist, chairman of the Irvine Company, and a lifetime member of the Caltech Board of Trustees — and Caltech’s then-president Jean-Lou Chameau came together to discuss the potential for a space-based solar power research project. By 2013, Bren and his wife (Caltech trustee Brigitte Bren) began funding the project through the Donald Bren Foundation, which will eventually exceed $100 million. As Bren said in a recent Caltech press release:

“For many years, I’ve dreamed about how space-based solar power could solve some of humanity’s most urgent challenges. Today, I’m thrilled to be supporting Caltech’s brilliant scientists as they race to make that dream a reality.”

While the technology behind solar cells has existed since the late 19th century, generating solar power in space presents some serious challenges. For one thing, solar panels are heavy and require extensive wiring to transmit power, making them expensive and difficult to launch. To overcome these challenges, the SSPP team had to create a satellite that would be light enough for cost-effective launches yet strong enough to withstand the extreme environment of space. This required envisioning and developing new technologies, architectures, materials, and structures.

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