Proceedings PaperFission-activated laser as primary power for CW laser propulsion
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Recent advances in the development of reactor-pumped lasers (RPLs) have stimulated renewed interest in the concept of laser-powered propulsion. This paper surveys a number of laser propulsion concepts and identifies the one that is most promising from the standpoint of practicality. It is proposed that a ground-based FALCON (fission-activated laser concept) RPL can provide primary power for this launch vehicle design. The laser-vehicle system could launch small payloads into low-earth orbit (LEO) with high repetition rates and at low costs per kilogram. For the favored design, thruster efficiencies are currently estimated to be about 50%, with 80% being seen as a potentially reliable goal after further design refinements. Laser launch system simulations indicate that, with a buy-in laser power of 10 MW, it will be possible to obtain specific impulses in the range of 600 to 800 seconds and payload-to-power ratios of 1 to 3 kg/MW.