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NASA is working on laser-based propulsion


Posted on Monday, 22 February, 2016 | Comment icon 74 comments

Can a laser beam send a spacecraft to Mars ? Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 ESO/M. Kornmesser
A new type of propulsion system could see lasers being used to 'push' a spacecraft up to great speeds.
There's no denying that today's spacecraft are extremely slow - especially when you take in to account that it can take years even to travel to other planets within our own solar system.

Most space probes and spacecraft currently use conventional chemical rockets which work by burning fuel to produce thrust - a mechanism that certainly works but is notoriously slow and inefficient - not least because it is necessary to carry all of that heavy fuel along for the ride.

According to NASA scientist Philip Lubin however, one way around this problem is to instead use laser beams to essentially 'push' a spacecraft up to speed without the need for any fuel at all.

The lasers, which would be situated on the surface of the Earth, could enable a type of 'photonic propulsion' by firing at special 'sails' on a spacecraft in an effort to propel it forwards.

While it wouldn't be possible to push anything particularly heavy, such a system would be perfect for sending probes to other worlds within our own solar system and perhaps even further than that.

"There are recent advances that take this from science fiction to science reality," said Lubin.

"There is no known reason why we can not do this."

Source: Science Alert | Comments (74)

Tags: Mars, Lasers


 
Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #65 Posted by Derek Willis on 4 March, 2016, 12:07
You are completely right! I don't know what the hell I was thinking there!!
Comment icon #66 Posted by Derek Willis on 4 March, 2016, 20:19
Here's a thought - and a vain attempt to dig myself out my earlier brainstorm - do gravitational waves (which we now know exist) follow the curved geodesics of a very heavy body in the same way as light does?
Comment icon #67 Posted by Harte on 4 March, 2016, 21:19
Not sure, but it seems like they should. I mean, gravity curves the fabric of space itself. Gravitational waves are jiggles in spacetime. Harte
Comment icon #68 Posted by Derek Willis on 4 March, 2016, 21:52
I have come across a few references saying that gravitational waves will propagate along null geodesics in the same way as electromagnetic waves do, so on that basis they would be bent by gravity. But that is not the same as my silly statement that gravity is bent by gravity. It is an interesting situation, however. http://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/52167/since-there-are-gravitational-lenses-are-there-gravitational-mirrors The reference is physics-stack-exchange and those guys normally know what they are talking about.
Comment icon #69 Posted by Noteverythingisaconspiracy on 5 March, 2016, 0:09
Hence why my full post was like this. I am not entirely sure why you left out that part when you quoted me ?
Comment icon #70 Posted by Derek Willis on 5 March, 2016, 8:51
I don't know what the hell was going on with my brain yesterday. I made a stupid posting about gravity bending gravity and then didn't take the trouble to read your post properly. I can't even blame it on having had a drink as I wrote the posts in the morning. My double bad, as they say.
Comment icon #71 Posted by Noteverythingisaconspiracy on 5 March, 2016, 15:47
No problem. *hit happens.
Comment icon #72 Posted by Harte on 6 March, 2016, 18:11
Perhaps you should drink in the morning, then. I mean, the Universe is telling you to put some brandy in your coffee. Harte
Comment icon #73 Posted by Derek Willis on 6 March, 2016, 20:29
That sounds like a good idea! I am sure it will also make sitting through interminable meetings at work far more tolerable!
Comment icon #74 Posted by bmk1245 on 11 April, 2016, 10:49
Bit more details (math) can be found in .


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