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Proceedings Paper

Laser space propulsion overview
Author(s): Claude Phipps; James Luke; Wesley Helgeson
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Paper Abstract

In this paper, we review the history of laser space propulsion from its earliest theoretical conceptions to modern practical applicatons. Applications begin with the "Lightcraft" flights of Myrabo and include practical thrusters for satellites now completing development as well as proposals for space debris removal and direct launch of payloads into orbit. We consider laser space propulsion in the most general sense, in which laser radiation is used to propel a vehicle in space. In this sense, the topic includes early proposals for pure photon propulsion, laser ablation propulsion, as well as propulsion using lasers to detonate a gas, expel a liquid, heat and expel a gas, or even to propagate power to a remote conventional electric thruster. We also discuss the most recent advances in LSP. For the first time, it is possible to consider space propulsion engines which exhibit thrust of one to several newtons while simultaneously delivering 3,000 seconds, or greater, specific impulse. No other engine concept can do both in a compact format. These willl use onboard, rather than remote, lasers. We will review the concept of chemically augmented electric propulsion, which can provide overall thrust efficiency greater than unity while maintaining very low mass to power ratio, high mean time to failure and broad operating range. The main advantage of LSP is exhaust velocity which can be instantaneously varied from 2km/s to 30km/s, simply by varying laser pulsewidth and focal spot size on target. The laser element will probably be a diode-pumped, fiber master-oscillator-power-amplifier (MOPA) system. Liquid fuels are necessary for volumetric efficiency and reliable performance at the multi-kW optical power levels required for multi-N thrust.

Paper Details

Date Published: 25 April 2007
PDF: 12 pages
Proc. SPIE 6606, Advanced Laser Technologies 2006, 660602 (25 April 2007); doi: 10.1117/12.729495
Show Author Affiliations
Claude Phipps, Photonic Associates, LLC (United States)
James Luke, NMT/Institute for Engineering Research and Applications (United States)
Wesley Helgeson, NMT/Institute for Engineering Research and Applications (United States)

Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 6606:
Advanced Laser Technologies 2006

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