It sounds like a plan concocted by a supervillain if that villain’s dastardly end was to provide cheap, clean power all over the world:of three-kilometer-wide solar arrays that beam the sun’s energy to the surface of the Earth. Even the price tag seems gleaned from pop fiction: one hundred . But this is an actual project at Caltech, funded for nearly a decade mainly by a single donor.
The Space-basedProject has been underway since at least 2013 when the first donation from Donald and Brigitte Bren came through. Donald Bren is the chairman of Irvine Company. On the Caltech board of trustees, and after hearing about the idea of space-based solar in Popular Science, he proposed to fund a — and since then has given more than $100 million for the purpose. The source of the funds has been kept anonymous until this when Caltech made it public.
The idea emerges naturally from the current limitations of time of day. Even in ideal circumstances, no at total capacity all the time, so the problem becomes one of transferring and storing energy in an intelligent grid. No on Earth that is. However, a in orbit may be exposed to the whole light of the sun nearly all the time, and with none of the reduction in its power that comes from that light passing through the planet’s protective atmosphere and magnetosphere.. Solar power is ubiquitous on the surface, but of course, highly dependent on the weather, season, and
“This ambitious project is a transformative approach to large-scale solar energy harvesting for the Earth that overcomes this intermittency and the need for energy storage,” said SSPP researcher Harry Atwater in the Caltech release. Of course, you would need to collect enough energy that it’s worth doing in the first place, and you need a way to beam that energy down to the surface in a way that doesn’t lose most of it to the aforementioned protective layers but also doesn’t fry anything passing through its path.
These fundamental questions have been looked at systematically for the last decade, and the team is clear that this project wouldn’t have been possible without Bren’s support. Attempting to do theand rotating through grad students might have prevented it’s being done at all. Still, the steady funding meant they could hire and overcome early obstacles that might have stymied them otherwise. The group has produced dozens of published
studies and prototypes (which you can peruse here), including the lightest solar collector-transmitter made by order of magnitude. It is now on theits first space-based test satellite. [Launch] is to be Q1 2023,” co-director of the project Ali Hajimiri told TechCrunch. “It involves several demonstrators for space verification of key , namely, wireless power transfer at a distance lightweight, flexible photovoltaics and flexible, deployable space structures.”