Future Spacecraft could be Oriented with Photonic Laser Technology
Kagan Pittman posted on May 19, 2015 |

Research engineers have successfully propelled a 450 g spacecraft simulator with pure laser light using Photonic Laser Thruster (PLT) technology.

A high-reflector (HR) mirror mounted on a gliding platform was successfully propelled along a 2 m frictionless air track, simulating zero gravity. Photons bounced back and forth several hundred times between two mirrors producing a thrust of up to 1.1 mN.

Sliding down the track, the mirror was propelled toward a rubber band. Once reaching the band, the object was bounced back towards the source of the photons.

Upon approaching the source, the object slowed to a full stop before moving away again, back toward the rubber band.

Watch the experiment in the video below.



The demonstration shown in the video simulates beaming thrust between vehicles.

A PLT spacecraft system could result in dramatic reductions in fuel consumption in a wide range of space applications. PLT systems could assist with orbit adjustments, drag compensation and rendezvous and docking maneuvers.

PLT’s thrust-beaming capabilities also enable a distributed multivehicle approach versus the single-spacecraft approach. For example, PLT can be used for beaming thrust from a resource vehicle to a more expensive mission vehicle, like a tanker does in aerial refueling.

"PLT technology has the potential to revolutionize space mission designs," said Dr. Mason Peck, associate professor in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University. Dr. Peck also served as NASA's Chief Technologist.

Fully developed PLT could serve commercial and non-commercial needs by increasing the life of LEO satellites while reducing mission costs, says Dr. Peck. “For the future, this unlimited-impulse technology opens doors to applications that are currently impractical, like persistent, precision formations of multiple satellites."

Y.K. Bae Corporation’s experiments all took place in a Class 1000 cleanroom. The project was funded by a Phase II grant of NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC).

Y.K. Bae engineers are currently developing space-qualifiable PLTs, scaling up PLT in thrust and operation range. "Our next milestone is a flight demonstration in low earth orbit, which will prove the technology of PLT-enabled precision formation flying and stationkeeping with small satellites," according to Dr. Bae, CEO of Y.K. Bae Corporation.

To learn more about Y.K. Bae and their Photonic Laser Thrusters project, visit ykbcorp.com.

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