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caltech launches prototype satellite developed to harvest unlimited space-based solar power


Caltech Area Photo voltaic Energy Undertaking (SSPP)

On January 3, 2023, the prototype satellite tv for pc of Caltech’s Area Photo voltaic Energy Undertaking (SSPP) was efficiently launched into orbit. The prototype, known as the Area Photo voltaic Energy Demonstrator (SSPD), will take a look at a number of key elements of an formidable harvesting plan. solar energy into house and beam the vitality again to Earth. Area solar energy gives a technique to faucet into the almost limitless provide of photo voltaic vitality in house, the place vitality is at all times accessible no matter day and night time cycles, seasons, and cloud cowl. When absolutely realized, the SSPP will deploy a constellation of modular spacecraft that may acquire daylight, convert it into electrical energy, then wirelessly transmit that electrical energy over lengthy distances wherever it’s wanted—together with already in areas that presently do not need entry to dependable electrical energy. After greater than ten years or analysis, the launch represents an vital milestone within the undertaking and guarantees to show what was as soon as science fiction right into a actuality.

Caltech launches prototype satellite designed to harvest unlimited space-based solar power
Caltech’s Area Photo voltaic Energy Demonstrator | picture courtesy of Caltech


A Momentus Vigoride spacecraft carried aboard a SpaceX rocket on the Transporter-6 mission carried the 50-kilogram SSPD into house. the Caltech staff on Earth plans to start out working their SSPD experiments inside a number of weeks of launch. There are three essential experiments, every tasked with testing a special key expertise of the undertaking: DOLCE (Deployable on-Orbit ultraLight Composite Experiment), a construction measuring 6 ft in 6 ft exhibiting the structure, packaging scheme and deployment mechanism of the modular house automobile that may finally grow to be a kilometer-scale constellation that may grow to be an influence station; ALBA, a group of 32 several types of photovoltaic (PV) cells, to make an evaluation of the sorts of cells which are the simplest in punishing the house setting; and MAPLE (Microwave Array for Energy-transfer Low-orbit Experiment), an array of versatile light-weight microwave energy transmitters with exact timing management that directs the ability selectively to 2 completely different receivers to show the wi-fi energy transmission over house. The extra fourth a part of the SSPD is an electronics field that interfaces with the Vigoride pc and controls the three experiments.

Some components of the take a look at can be carried out instantly. ‘We plan to order the deployment of DOLCE inside days of acquiring entry to the SSPD from Momentus. We have to know quickly if DOLCE is working,’ mentioned Sergio Pellegrino, Caltech’s Joyce and Kent Kresa Professor of Aerospace and Professor of Civil Engineering and co-director of the SSPP. Pellegrino can also be a senior analysis scientist at JPL, which Caltech manages for NASA. Some components will take extra time, however the SSPP staff hopes to have a full evaluation of SSPD’s efficiency inside a number of months of launch.

Caltech launches prototype satellite designed to harvest unlimited space-based solar power
the prototype antenna sheet for the ability transmitter array exhibiting the pliability of the unit. every orange sq. on the yellow tile is an antenna to be powered by a transmitter | picture from Lance Hayashida/Caltech

what was as soon as science fiction CAN be true

Caltech’s SSPP started in 2011 after philanthropist Donald Bren, chairman of the Irvine Firm and lifelong member of the Caltech Board of Trustees, discovered concerning the potential for space-based photo voltaic vitality technology in an article on Common Science journal. Intrigued by the potential for solar energy in house, Bren approached former Caltech president Jean-Lou Chameau to debate growing a space-based solar energy analysis undertaking. In 2013, Bren and his spouse, Brigitte Bren, a Caltech trustee, agreed to make a donation to fund the undertaking. “For years, I’ve dreamed of how space-based solar energy may remedy a few of humanity’s most urgent challenges,” Bren mentioned. ‘Now, I’m delighted to be supporting gifted scientists at Caltech as they race to make that dream come true.’

Though many challenges stay and nothing is assured, his capability to create a space-worthy prototype represents a big achievement by the SSPP staff. ‘No matter occurs, this prototype is a giant step ahead,’ mentioned Ali Hajimiri, Caltech’s Bren Professor of Electrical Engineering and Medical Engineering and co-director of the SSPP. ‘It operates right here on Earth, and has handed the rigorous measures required of something launched into house. There are nonetheless many dangers, however going by way of the entire course of taught us useful classes. We consider that house experiments will present us with quite a lot of extra helpful info that may information the undertaking as we proceed to maneuver ahead.’


In response to Caltech, though photo voltaic cells have existed on Earth for the reason that late 1800s and presently generate about 4 p.c of the world’s electrical energy (along with powering the Worldwide Area Station), it is all about solar energy technology and transmission. have to be reconsidered to use to. massive scale of house. Photo voltaic panels are huge and heavy, which makes them costly to put in, and so they want quite a lot of cables to transmit the ability. To beat these challenges, the SSPP staff needed to envision and develop new applied sciences, architectures, supplies, and buildings for a system that might allow the sensible realization of solar energy in house, whereas being gentle sufficient to could be value efficient for many deployments. in house, and is powerful sufficient to resist the punishing house setting. All the set of three prototypes inside the SSPD was envisioned, designed, constructed, and examined by a staff of about 35 people that included graduate college students, postdocs, and analysis scientists.

Caltech launches prototype satellite designed to harvest unlimited space-based solar power
Caltech Area Photo voltaic Energy Undertaking (SSPP) infographic

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