Caltech Offers A Depressing Solution To Solar Panels
To borrow a phrase from Earth’s wisest of wise men, Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr., otherwise known as Snoop Dogg, our planet is about to “drop it like it’s hot” (specifically due to climate change.) Never has there been a more pressing time to get renewable energy up and running as far and as wide as possible. But where to put all these contraptions, like wind turbines and solar panels, for renewable energy on a planet with a constant housing crisis? With a 100 million gift donated by Donald Bren, chairman of Irvine Company and a lifetime member of the Caltech Board of Trustees, Caltech has the answer.
Enter Caltech, otherwise known as the California Institute of Technology, a private research university in Pasadena California. Caltech has been on the forefront of scientific advancement from establishing the “Einstein Papers Project” to managing and operating NASA'sJet Propulsion Laboratory. Now, they continue that trend, by throwing some solar panels into space.
Though the donation was made anonymously in 2013, the massive amount of money has been disclosed publicly as the project it was set to support, the Space-Based Solar Power Project or SSPP, approaches what experts are calling a “milestone”. This is a test launch of multifunctional technology-demonstrator- prototypes that collect sunlight, convert it to electrical energy, transfer energy wirelessly in free-space using radio frequency (RF) electrical power. We’re talking about Solar panels, baby.
But this isn’t as simple as it seems. Humans are great at launching things into space. What they’re bad at is keeping those things in space or having those things remain useful. The Hubble Space Telescope is an interesting example. It was the pinnacle of advancement when it launched in 1990. Fast forward to where it is today - barely functional, requiring constant maintenance and suffering multiple failures. The Caltech solar project is no different. Getting the panels into space is one thing. Having them actually beam down energy to Earth without losing a significant amount is a space horse of a different space color.
Caltech in their press release stated: "Collecting solar power in space and transmitting the energy wirelessly to Earth through microwaves enables terrestrial power availability unaffected by weather or time of day. Solar power could be continuously available anywhere on earth.”
Wireless, huh? Yeah, we're looking at you Elon Musk’s Starlink. It seems like a project to throw some support behind as opposed to some sort of measuring contest on which billionaire can get to space on a vacation.
Launch isn’t expected until 2023. Fingers crossed that Earth will still be around to see it.
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