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Lasers Proposed to Expand Photon Thrust

Photonics.com
Jun 2013
TUSTIN, Calif., June 12, 2013 — Adapting high-power thin-disk laser technology could significantly expand applications for photon thrust in spacecraft propulsion, enabling improved maneuverability and extended mission lifetimes.

Conventional spacecraft maneuvering applies momentum to a single vehicle by exhausting fuel in the form of plumb or ions, limiting mission life and maneuvering capability to fuel capacity. In 2007, Dr. Young Bae developed a proof-of-concept for maneuvering spacecraft powered by photonic laser thrust (PLT), in which the pressure of circulating photons creates momentum for precise, efficient control for formation flying in space (See: Photonic Laser Thruster Makes Its Debut).

Now, Bae and colleagues at Y.K. Bae Corp. have conducted new research on directed energy momentum beaming (DEMB), showing how advances in photon propulsion based on thin-disk lasers could virtually eliminate fuel consumption and lower spacecraft life-cycle costs by orders of magnitude compared with traditional fuel systems.

With DEMB, photons recycled between two spacecraft modules create momentum by repetitive bouncing between high reflectance mirrors with a PLT. Momentum is beamed from the resource vehicle to a mission vehicle without using propellant, enabling ultraprecision spacecraft maneuvering, including station keeping, rendezvous and docking, orbit changing, and drag compensation.


Research conducted at Y.K. Bae Corp. has shown that directed energy momentum beaming (DEMB) is capable of providing thrust in the range of 1 mN to 1 N, enabling improved spacecraft maneuverability. This image shows a laser beam bouncing between two spacecraft to force them apart. The force can be used for maneuvering in low-earth orbit (LEO), geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) and geostationary earth orbit (GEO). Courtesy of Y. K. Bae Corp.

The proposed technology could also lower construction and operation costs by reducing the hardware required for higher orbit applications; eliminate environmental contamination or damage to mission-crucial elements during proximate operations from cross-firing of traditional thrusters; and provide a foundation for fast-transit solar system or interstellar missions while returning precise maneuvering benefits from near-term space missions, the investigators say.

“Today’s high-power thin-disk lasers with a demonstrated thrust in the 5-mN range broaden the future applications for DEMB spacecraft propulsion beyond formation flying, and enable enhancements to existing mission architectures,” said Bae, CEO of the company, which was founded in 2007 to develop space propulsion and emerging energy technologies. “In principle, DEMB is capable of providing thrusts in the range of 1 mN to 1 N from an operational power source of 100 W to 100 kW delivered by current space-based solar panels.”

Bae is now exploring funding sources for developing space-qualified high-power lasers and a flight demonstration for DEMB as a means of reducing future spacecraft weight and size and enabling unprecedented maneuverability.

For more information, visit: www.ykbcorp.com


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