- Scientists at the California Institute of Technology came up with the idea of gathering solar electricity from space.
- Caltech identified the anonymous $100 million donors as real estate billionaire Donald Bren and his wife Brigitte.
- The SSPP has created a prototype device that converts sunlight into radio-frequency (RF) and transmits useable electricity through a wireless steerable beam.
Solar power is energy derived from the Sun, which is the most plentiful source of energy that may be turned into thermal or electric energy. Solar panels are widely utilized to harvest solar energy for home, commercial, or industrial purposes.
Solar electricity on Earth is intermittent, making it difficult to harness at times. Scientists at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, came up with the idea of gathering solar electricity from space and beaming it down to Earth using microwaves. They dubbed it the Space Solar Electricity Project, and it seeks to deliver solar power wherever on Earth, regardless of the weather or time of day.
Anonymous Donor of $100M Revealed
According to SSPP researcher Professor Harry Atwater, solar energy is the world’s most plentiful energy resource. However, sunlight is only intermittently available to the Earth’s surface, making it difficult to harvest solar power at times. The SSPP, by collecting solar electricity from space, will ideally overcome the intermittent nature of energy storage because it will be continuous and can be beamed anywhere in the world.
According to Space.com, the SSPP was able to get off the ground and continue for over a decade owing to an undisclosed $100 million gift. Caltech disclosed on August 3 that these anonymous donors were real estate developer Donald Bren and his wife Brigitte.
Bren, chairman of the Irvine Company, stated that he had been researching the potential uses of space-based solar power for many years, which sparked his interest in sponsoring Caltech’s SSPP in 2013. He believes that harnessing natural solar energy would benefit everyone. According to SSPP team members, the Brens have no financial stake in the initiative or the technology that it produces.
Solar Energy Harvesting from Space
The SSPP has created a prototype device that converts sunlight into radio-frequency (RF) microwave energy and transmits useable electricity through a wireless steerable beam. According to Caltech, combining solar power and RF into a single unit minimizes the weight and complexity of beaming energy down to Earth. Its maiden space voyage is slated for 2023. However, Caltech’s SSPP is not the only one seeking to capture solar energy from space.
According to Space.com, the United States Air Force likewise intends to send a power-beaming experiment into orbit in 2024 with its Photovoltaic Radio-frequency Antenna Module Flight Experiment (PRAM-FX).
The 12-inch-wide square is presently flying around the Earth on the unmanned US Space Force’s X-37B space aircraft. PRAM-FX is intended to capture solar energy and convert it to microwave power.