Researchers at NASA are working on an amazing piece of laser technology that could revolutionize space travel.
The space agency had a great year in 2015, captivating the public with its images of space and making some serious scientific breakthroughs. Interest in space has exploded to the point that NASA received over 18,300 applications for 14 advertised astronaut positions. Now the space agency is apparently working on a groundbreaking piece of laser technology, writes Dan Taylor for Morning Ticker.
NASA laser propulsion technology could bring Mars closer than ever
A manned mission to Mars is planned for the early 2030s, and astronauts are expected to reach the Red Planet some 5 months after blasting off from Earth. However a spacecraft using this new laser technology could apparently make the journey in just 3 days.
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Researchers have proposed a system which would propel spacecraft at incredible speeds using a series of giant sails and lasers. A report in ScienceAlert claims that the system uses “photonic propulsion” to power the craft.
By using particles of light called photons, the spacecraft would rely on huge lasers based on Earth rather than photons from the sun’s rays. It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but scientists believe that it isn’t as outlandish as it may appear.
Science fiction or future reality?
Researchers believe that readily available technology can be used to create such a system. It works using the energy and momentum contained in particles of light, which provide a small push when they reflect off an object.
If a large enough reflective sail could be constructed, scientists could create the momentum necessary to propel a spacecraft. Electromagnetic acceleration is limited by the speed of light, whereas a chemical propulsion system is limited by the amount of energy produced by the chemical processes.
NASA believes that the system is viable, and scientist Philip Lubin has explained why in a new video for Nasa 360, Lubin believes that a photonic propulsion craft could get a “100 kilogram robotic craft to Mars in three days,” while a manned craft would take around a month.
“There are recent advances that take this from science fiction to science reality,” Lubin explains. “There is no known reason why we can not do this.”
Existing rocket technology holding back human exploration of space
With conventional rocket technology, the amount of fuel required to reach Mars is astronomical. Another challenge faced by scientists is developing a braking system that would be able to slow the spacecraft down when it eventually arrives at the Red Planet.
With photonic propulsion the weight of the spacecraft is kept to a minimum as there is no need to carry fuel. However the fact remains that the major benefits of the system would be seen in sending lightweight robot spacecraft far into space, rather than human beings.
If we could get artificial intelligence robots to visit far away worlds that could harbor life, we could still make huge strides in improving our knowledge of the Universe.
“The human factor of exploring the nearest stars and exoplanets would be a profound voyage for humanity, one whose non-scientific implications would be enormous,” writes Lubin. “It is time to begin this inevitable journey beyond our home.”
The reputation of NASA, and excitement about further advances in space exploration, continue to grow. With a planned Mars mission, a selection of new astronauts, and the development of new propulsion technology, it is an exciting time for space watchers.