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Caltech Gifted $100 Million to Develop Space-Based Solar Power Tech

Published on Tuesday, August 3, 2021 | 12:42 pm
 
(Left to right) Caltech Professor of Aeronautics and Civil Engineering and Jet Propulsion Laboratory Senior Research Scientist and co-director of Caltech’s Space-Based Solar Power Project Sergio Pellegrino; Brigitte Bren; Donald Bren; Caltech Professor of Electrical Engineering and Medical Engineering and Co-Director of Caltech’s Space-Based Solar Power Project Ali Hajimiri; and Caltech’s Space-Based Solar Power Project Manager Richard Madonna. (Credit: Caltech)

Caltech on Tuesday revealed the institution has been gifted more than $100 million by a businessman and university trustee to develop technology to collect solar power in space and beam it back to Earth.

The endowment was made anonymously in 2013 by Irvine Company Chairman and Caltech Board of Trustees member Donald Bren, Caltech said in a written statement. But the source of the gift was disclosed this week, as the Space-based Solar Power Project which it funded approaches a breakthrough.

Researchers are preparing to unveil “multifunctional technology-demonstrator prototypes” by next year according to Caltech.

“SSPP aims to ultimately produce a global supply of affordable, renewable, clean energy,” the statement said. “A key benefit of harnessing solar power from space is that it provides access to the sun to create power all day, every day, free from weather constraints or darkness of night.”

Bren’s interest in space-based solar technology became piqued in 2011 when he read an article on the topic in Popular Science magazine, according to the university.

“I have been a student researching the possible applications of space-based solar energy for many years,” Donald Bren said. “My interest in supporting the world-class scientists at Caltech is driven by my belief in harnessing the natural power of the sun for the benefit of everyone.”

After speaking with Caltech’s then-President Jean-Lou Chameau, “…he and his wife, Brigitte, a Caltech trustee, agreed to make the donation to fund the project,” the Caltech statement said. “The first of the donations that now exceed $100 million was made that year through the Donald Bren Foundation, and the research began.”

The Brens have no financial stake in the project, Caltech Professor of Electrical Engineering and Medical Engineering and Co-Director of Caltech’s Space-Based Solar Power Project  Ali Hajimiri said.

“It shows the magnitude of the generosity,” he said. “They really want to change the world and truly see this as an opportunity to make a lasting difference for the planet, while generating a broad range of novel technologies with impact in many areas such as wireless power, communications, and sensing.”

Caltech President Thomas F. Rosenbaum thanked the Brens for their support.

“Donald Bren has brought the same drive and discipline that he has demonstrated with master planning communities to the Space Solar Program,” he said. “He has presented a remarkable technical challenge that promises a remarkable payoff for humanity: a world powered by uninterruptible renewable energy.”

More information on Caltech’s Space-based Solar Power Project is available online at spacesolar.caltech.edu.

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