Saturday, September 15, 2007

First Photonic Laser Thruster Takes Us One Step Closer To Interstellar Travel

Nearing The Speed of Light
Remarkable new spacecraft propulsion system in development
By Kevin Spiess

The following is not science fiction: new 'Photonic Laser Thruster' demonstrated
     Photons. Lasers. Both are very handy. Photons help me shave in the morning; they are also an inherent part of almost everything else in the universe. Lasers are great for CD players and pointing out stuff on charts -- and they have many other uses beyond this as well. But finally: the power of lasers, and the useful nature of photons, have been combined into a extremely promising new propulsion system, the Photonic Laser Thruster.

“[The] PLT has immense potential for the aerospace industry. For example, PLT powered spacecraft could transit the 100 million km to Mars in less than a week,” said the inventor of the space-drive, Dr. Young K. Bae, in a press release.

The efficiency of the Photonic Laser Thruster seems to credit ingenious design more so than any technological breakthroughs -- it was built using off the shelf parts, and utilizes some common principles of science. In a rough nutshell, the PLT uses “a photonic laser and a sophisticated photon beam amplification system”, in conjunction with precisely positioned mirrors, to make sort of 'light chamber', where photonic energy can be properly harnessed and focused for propulsion.

Not only is the thruster capable of (relatively) quick acceleration, but similar to ion-drives, the PLT requires no propellants, nor requires any extreme amount of power, thus, it is well-suited for extended journeys into space.

A successful prototype of the PLT thruster was demonstrated last year for many scientists. The prototype is much smaller than an engine that could be used on a spacecraft -- but the fundamentals would be the same, so it's just a matter of scalability. The prototype had a “egg-sized” laser and generated an “amplification factor of 3,000.” The PLT Thruster was made by the BAE Institute, and was funded by NASA.

Dr. Bae is the founder of the BAE Institute, and is, by many accounts, an all around very intelligent guy. He has a Ph.D in experimental atomic and nuclear physics, from the University of California, Berkeley. With the help of lab-buddies, Dr. Bae discovered He2- (the negative Helium molecular ion), and has been studying stuff like “particle beams, antimatter propulsion physics, high energy density materials, and nano-particles” for somewhere around twenty years or so.

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