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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Photonic Energy & The Final Frontier

by JASmius

Maybe they'll call it the "Cooper-Hofstadter drive":

A NASA 360 video exploring photonic propulsion, which could cut Mars travel time down to three days, has received more than 142,000 views on YouTube.

Philip Lubin, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, states in the video that this amazing travel fete could be achieved with a laser-propelled spacecraft that uses large sails. According to, a spaceship would be pushed along Earth-bound lasers instead of energy from the sun.

"There are recent advances that take this from science fiction to science reality," Lubin says in the video. "There is no known reason why we cannot do this."

Photonic propulsion is a theoretical system that would use particles of light to propel objects through space, according to The energy from particles could potentially transport a 220-pound robotic craft to Mars in three days.

Using the technology, a larger, manned spacecraft could reach Mars within a month. [emphasis added]

It would appear that directed energy efficiency has improved dramatically over the past decade.  I'd like to see that applied to missile defense systems, but this is a cool application as well.

For unmanned probes, assuming three days to Mars, one can project the possibilities and start the uncontrollable salivating:

Jupiter: 23 days (a little over three weeks)

Saturn: 49 days (seven weeks)

Uranus: 104 days (three and a half months)

Neptune: 165 days (five and a half months)

The Kuiper Cliff (outer edge of the Kuiper Belt, where it is believed the REAL ninth planet might reside): 279 days (9.3 months)

The Oort Cloud: 15.5 years

Alpha Centauri: 393 years

All but the interstellar distances are well within human lifetime timescales.  And for manned spacecraft, this technology makes the planetary part of our solar system realistically accessible (once we figure out artificial - centrifugal for now - gravity, artificial hibernation, etc.)

Mars: 28 days (four weeks)

Jupiter: 225 days (seven and a half months)

Saturn: 458 days (15.3 months)

Uranus: 973 days (2.7 years)

Neptune: 1,553 days (4.3 years)

The ice giants may still seem like an excessively long trip for a manned expedition, but just to provide a little perspective, this manned photonic-propulsion vessel will be over twenty thousand times faster than any of the Apollo lunar missions, while the unmanned probes will exceed the velocity of the fastest robotic craft ever launched by humanity, New Horizons, by a factor of almost twenty.

It ain't warp drive....

....but it'll do nicely for now.

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