Laser-propelled missiles – finally, an environmentally friendly mode of space exploration

30 Oct 2014

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Laser-propelled missiles - finally, an environmentally friendly mode of space exploration

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Laser-propelled missiles are one of those science-fiction creations that make too much sense for them not to exist in real life. And, hopefully, they soon will.

A new way for improving the thrust generated by laser-propulsion systems may bring them closer to reality, negating the need for costly, heavy and environmentally unfriendly fuels.

This new method, developed by physicists in Russia, has been listed in The Optical Society’s (OSA) journal Applied Optics.

Modern spacecraft must carry significant loads of fuel to reach a required destination, reducing the top speed and total distance available. However, if a laser were used to provide additional propulsive force, these loads can be significantly reduced.

Yuri Rezunkov and Alexander Schmidt’s new approach integrates “a laser-ablation propulsion system with the gas blasting nozzles of a spacecraft,” according to the OSA.

“Combining the two systems, the researchers found, can increase the speed of the gas flow out of the system to supersonic speeds, while reducing the amount of burned fuel.”

“Summarising the data obtained, we can forecast the application of the supersonic laser propulsion techniques not only for launching small satellites to Earth orbits, but also for additional acceleration of supersonic aircrafts to achieve Mach 10 and more,” Rezunkov said.

Space shuttle image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt is a journalist at Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com