Can laser propulsion take us to Mars in three days?
NASA scientist Philip Lubin is working on a system where lasers propel spacecraft with giant sails to the Red Planet in as little as three days. Much like Bill Nye's much-hyped solar sail, this 'photonic propulsion' system relies on the momentum of photons - particles of light - to move forward. But instead of photons from the Sun's rays, Lubin's design would be given a push by giant Earth-based lasers.
Laser propulsion is not science fiction and remains the goal of many researchers and at least one company, LaserMotive--although it is working on a more Earth-bound version that can power unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) rather than interplanetary voyages. It's also one important topic of the upcoming HPLA/DE conference in April, and the subject of an interesting video from NASA.
LaserMotive unveils strategy for laser-powered fueling of UAVs
International High-Power Laser Ablataion and Directed Energy (HPLA/DE) Conference, Sante Fe, NM, April 4-7, 2016
A Roadmap to Interstellar Flight, by Philip Lubin, Physics Dept, UC Santa Barbara
VIDEO: Going Interstellar from NASA 360