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Space & Astronomy

NASA is working on laser-based propulsion

By T.K. Randall
February 22, 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)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #65 Posted by Derek Willis 7 years ago
Gravitational lenses haven't been observed to bend gravity. They bend light. They are gravity. Harte You are completely right! I don't know what the hell I was thinking there!!
Comment icon #66 Posted by Derek Willis 7 years ago
Gravitational lenses haven't been observed to bend gravity. They bend light. They are gravity. Harte 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 7 years ago
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? 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 7 years ago
Not sure, but it seems like they should. I mean, gravity curves the fabric of space itself. Gravitational waves are jiggles in spacetime. Harte 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 phy... [More]
Comment icon #69 Posted by Noteverythingisaconspiracy 7 years ago
It is indeed a myth that people thought that heavier than air flight was impossible before the Wright brothers. There was something that proved the possibility of heavier than air flight for as long as there have been people to ponder it: Birds. It's not entirely a myth. Scientists knew heavier than air flight was possible, and birds and insects provided the proof. What scientists such as Lord kelvin doubted was that humans could build heavier than air flying machines. Of course, many scientists did not share Kelvin's view. Kelvin is often misquoted, but NASA accept that he did make the claim,... [More]
Comment icon #70 Posted by Derek Willis 7 years ago
Hence why my full post was like this. I am not entirely sure why you left out that part when you quoted me ? 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 7 years ago
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. No problem. *hit happens.
Comment icon #72 Posted by Harte 7 years ago
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. 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 7 years ago
Perhaps you should drink in the morning, then. I mean, the Universe is telling you to put some brandy in your coffee. Harte 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 7 years ago
Bit more details (math) can be found in P.Lubin's paper.


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