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IR Laser Propels 1-Pound Mirror in Spaceflight Simulation (with video)

Photonics.com
May 2015
TUSTIN, Calif., May 19, 2015 — A private laboratory says it has validated a design for an IR laser propulsion system that could be used to keep satellites in position in low-earth orbit.

Y.K. Bae Corp. said it successfully accelerated a 1-lb (450-g) mirror along a 2-m frictionless air track using its Photonic Laser Thruster (PLT) technology. The project was funded by a $500,000 Phase II grant from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program.

Conducted in a Class 1000 cleanroom, the demonstration amplified photon power 400 times to achieve photon thrust up to 1.1 millinewtons by bouncing photons several hundred times between two laser mirrors.



The demonstration simulated beaming thrust between vehicles, which also included slowing and stopping the simulator. Benefits of a PLT spacecraft system include reduced fuel consumption for a range of space applications, such as orbit adjustments, drag compensation, and rendezvous and docking, the company said. The thrust-beaming capability of PLT further enables a distributed multivehicle approach, a departure from the single-spacecraft approach.

"Moving a 450-g platform unequivocally validates the useful power-to-thrust ratio of PLT," said Claude Phipps, chairman of the International High Power Laser Ablation and Directed Energy Symposium. "I can see future development that includes optical cavities that span many kilometers achieved with precise mirror alignment to enable maneuvering spacecraft many kilometers apart, and propellant-free propulsion of satellites in formations."

"PLT technology has the potential to revolutionize space mission designs," said Dr. Mason Peck, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University and a former chief technologist for NASA. "Fully developed PLT could serve current commercial and noncommercial needs by increasing the life of [low-earth orbit] satellites, and therefore reducing mission costs. For the future, this unlimited-impulse technology opens doors to applications that are currently impractical, like persistent, precision formations of multiple satellites."

Y.K. Bae is now developing space-qualifiable PLTs, and scaling up PLT in thrust and operation range.

"Our next milestone is a flight demonstration in low-earth orbit, which will prove the technology of PLT-enabled precision formation flying and stationkeeping with small satellites," according to CEO Young K. Bae.

For more information, visit www.ykbcorp.com.


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