Laser-Powered Spacecraft To Explore The Solar System

UC Santa Barbara physics professor Philip Lubin and his team are exploring the idea of photo-driven propulsion to power a spacecraft to interstellar destinations.

The group has been awarded one of 15 proof-of-concept grants from NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts. The NASA program aims to turn what sounds like science fiction into science fact through the development of pioneering technologies.

“One of humanity’s grand challenges is to explore other solar systems by sending probes — and eventually life,” said Lubin. “We propose a system that will allow us to take the first step toward interstellar exploration using directed energy propulsion combined with miniature probes. Along with recent work on wafer-scale photonics, we can now envision combining these technologies to enable a realistic approach to sending probes far outside our solar system.”

The UCSB group’s ultimate goal is to send small probes to supplement the current long-range remote sensing done by orbital and ground-based telescopes.

Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle wrote about laser cannon in their 1974 novel Mote in God's Eye, which provided ground-based power to space craft:

..."The intruder came from here. Whoever launched it fired a laser cannon, or a set of laser cannon - probably a whole mess of them on asteroids, with mirrors to focus them - for about forty-five years, so the intruder would have a beam to travel on...
(Read more about laser cannon)

The basic idea for the laser cannon/light sail propulsion system belongs to American physicist and science fiction writer Robert L. Forward, who published a short paper Ground-Based Lasers For Propulsion In Space in 1961.

From DeepStuff via @nyrath at Project Rho.

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