Brinson Exploration Hub Launches New Frontier for Science and Engineering

To test bold new ideas in space and on Earth with the potential to expand understanding of our planet, the solar system, and beyond, The Brinson Foundation has donated $100 million to Caltech to create The Brinson Exploration Hub. The Brinson Exploration Hub will provide teams of scientists and engineers from Caltech's campus and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which Caltech manages for NASA, with new opportunities to work together to develop and test novel scientific concepts and instrumentation on faster timescales and lower costs than is possible through conventional means.

Brinson Hub projects, formulated by researchers and engineers from Caltech's community on campus and at JPL, will be selected through a competitive process. The Brinson Exploration Hub will provide an opportunity to take on ambitious projects with a tolerance for risk and the potential to generate scientific breakthroughs, expand human knowledge, and fundamentally transform exploration. Projects could include robotic exploration of arctic shelves, small satellites and balloons that study the cosmos, the development of technologies to explore phenomena on the Moon and other planets, and programs to make Earth observations including rapid situational awareness after natural disasters. These new expeditions and missions will address unresolved scientific problems and may lead to new ways of probing the universe and leading transformative science, while closing the gap between university research, commercial interests, and national imperatives.

The Brinson Exploration Hub will also provide Caltech undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars with unprecedented opportunities to participate in space exploration, technology demonstrations, and the engineering and development of instrumentation for small scale missions. Caltech faculty are also considering ways to augment the undergraduate curriculum to enhance training and preparation of the next generation of space-savvy scientists and engineers.

"The Brinson Exploration Hub will enable a new paradigm that will bridge academia, industry, and government, so projects can move expeditiously from ideation and maturation to implementation," says Gary Brinson, founder and chair of The Brinson Foundation.

"There is nothing like the Brinson Exploration Hub because there is nowhere in the world where you could find something that resembles this kind of exceptional relationship between an esteemed scientific university and the world's leading center for the robotic exploration of the universe," Brinson adds. "Together, they are an unparalleled powerhouse in the fields of astrophysics, observational cosmology, space science, geophysics, and other areas that will characterize future Brinson Exploration Hub projects designed to be transformative rather than incremental."

"The Brinson Exploration Hub will open new vistas on the universe, on the solar system, and on our home planet," says Caltech President Thomas F. Rosenbaum. "The Brinson Foundation's commitment to exploration and discovery will leverage the power of the Caltech campus and JPL in unparalleled ways, for the benefit of science and for all’of us fascinated by the mysteries of the cosmos."

By adding an emphasis on concept maturation and implementation, the Brinson Exploration Hub leverages existing think tanks on campus and at JPL that are focused on early concept ideation. In addition to working with established Caltech centers and facilities, the Brinson Hub will seek out new relationships with industry partners who could provide additional project ideas, funding, launch services, hardware and software, assembly and test facilities, outside experts, and other forms of support.

"We want to reimagine how we do missions in the future, and this means working with commercial partners to advance the pace and lower the cost of scientific discoveries," says Caltech's Mark Simons, the inaugural director of the Brinson Exploration Hub and the John W. and Herberta M. Miles Professor of Geophysics, who served as JPL chief scientist from 2017 to 2023. "We want to learn how to best partner with industry. The Brinson Hub is not just about building missions but figuring out how to best go about this at a faster cadence and an acceptable tolerance of risk."

The Foundation's support of the Brinson Exploration Hub represents the organization's most recent investment in Caltech and its people. Since 2005, The Foundation has been a regular and consistent supporter of Caltech's graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, providing them with access to resources to freely and creatively advance pioneering research across fields. The Brinson Foundation was an early supporter of Caltech's gravitational wave research, which ultimately contributed to the 2016 observation of gravitational waves, and more recently still, has made repeated investments in research related to quantum computing technologies.

Laurie Leshin (PhD '95), JPL director and Caltech vice president, says the Brinson Exploration Hub "will take collaboration between campus and JPL to new heights."

"When I imagine the opportunities for new discoveries, advancing innovation, and serving students that will be enabled by the Brinson Hub, I am so grateful for the support of The Brinson Foundation," Leshin says. "The Brinson Hub will be a game changer."

More about The Brinson Foundation can be found on its.

Image: (L to R) Mark Simons, the inaugural director of the Brinson Exploration Hub and the John W. and Herberta M. Miles Professor of Geophysics; Gary Brinson, founder and chair of The Brinson Foundation; Suzann Brinson, a director with The Brinson Foundation; Laurie Leshin (PhD '95), JPL director and Caltech vice president; Thomas F. Rosenbaum, the Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and professor of physics; and David Tirrell, Carl and Shirley Larson Provostial Chair and Ross McCollum-William H. Corcoran Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering.