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Proceedings Paper

Solar lens mission concept for interstellar exploration
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Paper Abstract

The long standing approach to space travel has been to incorporate massive on-board electronics, probes and propellants to achieve space exploration. This approach has led to many great achievements in science, but will never help to explore the interstellar medium. Fortunately, a paradigm shift is upon us in how a spacecraft is constructed and propelled. This paper describes a mission concept to get to our Sun’s Gravity Lens at 550AU in less than 10 years. It will be done by using DE-STAR, a scalable solar-powered phased-array laser in Earth Orbit, as a directed energy photon drive of low-mass wafersats. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] With recent technologies a complete mission can be placed on a wafer including, power from an embedded radio nuclear thermal generator (RTG), PV, laser communications, imaging, photon thrusters for attitude control and other sensors. As one example, a futuristic 200 MW laser array consisting of 1 - 10 kw meter scale sub elements with a 100m baseline can propel a 10 gram wafer scale spacecraft with a 3m laser sail to 60AU/Year. Directed energy propulsion of low-mass spacecraft gives us an opportunity to capture images of Alpha Centauri and its planets, detailed imaging of the cosmic microwave background, set up interstellar communications by using gravity lenses around nearby stars to boost signals from interstellar probes, and much more. This system offers a very large range of missions allowing hundreds of wafer scale payload launches per day to reach this cosmological data reservoir. Directed Energy Propulsion is the only current technology that can provide a near-term path to utilize our Sun’s Gravity Lens.

Paper Details

Date Published: 1 September 2015
PDF: 9 pages
Proc. SPIE 9616, Nanophotonics and Macrophotonics for Space Environments IX, 96160A (1 September 2015); doi: 10.1117/12.2189019
Show Author Affiliations
Travis Brashears, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara (United States)
Philip Lubin, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara (United States)
Slava Turyshev, NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. (United States)
Michael Shao, NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. (United States)
Qicheng Zhang, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara (United States)

Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 9616:
Nanophotonics and Macrophotonics for Space Environments IX
Edward W. Taylor; David A. Cardimona, Editor(s)

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