Tustin, CA--Y. K. Bae Corporation has proposed using state-of-the-art high-power thin-disk lasers as photon thrusters in spacecraft propulsion. Its current research on directed energy momentum beaming (DEMB) is aimed at virtually eliminating fuel consumption and lowering spacecraft life-cycle costs by orders of magnitude compared to traditional fuel systems.
With DEMB, photons recycled between two spacecraft modules create momentum by repetitive bouncing between high-reflectance mirrors. Momentum is transferred from the resource vehicle to a mission vehicle without using propellant for ultraprecision spacecraft maneuvering, including stationkeeping, rendezvous and docking, orbit changing, and drag compensation.
|A laser beam bouncing back and forth between two spacecraft forces them apart. The force can be used for maneuvering in low-earth orbit (LEO), geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), and geostationary earth orbit. (Image: Y. K. BAE Corporation)|
Working from a NASA funded NIAC Phase I grant for development of innovative space technologies, Young Bae, CEO of the Y. K. Bae Corporation developed, demonstrated, and patented technology for maneuvering spacecraft powered by so-called "photonic laser thrust" (PLT), where the pressure of circulating photons creates momentum for control during formation flying in space. A proof-of-concept demonstration was done in 2007.
Now, Bae proposes flight demonstrations to show that DEMB can:
--Enable very long mission lifetimes and expanded operational capabilities, since advanced spacecraft maneuverings would no longer be limited by onboard fuel
--Lower construction and operation costs by reducing the hardware required for higher-orbit applications
--Eliminate environmental contamination or damage to mission-crucial elements during proximate operations from cross-firing of traditional thrusters
--Provide a cost-effective technology for fast-transit solar system or even interstellar missions, while providing precise maneuvering for near-term space missions
Using thin-disk lasers
"Today's high-power thin-disk lasers with a demonstrated thrust in the ~ 5 mN range broaden the future applications for DEMB spacecraft propulsion beyond formation flying, and enable enhancements to existing mission architectures," says Bae. "In principle, DEMB is capable of providing thrusts in the range of 1 mN to 1 N from an operational power source of 100 W to 100 kW delivered by current space-based solar panels."
Bae is looking for funding to develop space-qualified high-power lasers and a flight demonstration of DEMB. Before forming the Y. K. Bae Corporation, Bae (who has a Ph.D. in physics from UC Berkeley) pursued even farther-out propulsion concepts such as antimatter and fusion propulsion at SRI International, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the Air Force Research Lab.