Traveling to other stars is a big human dream; however, it may be necessary to make something small for its achievement. According to a new study, the use of powerful laser systems to launch tiny spacecraft will significantly speed up interstellar flights, and therefore, it will take only one or two decades instead of thousands of years.
Physics and mathematics limit all the impulses. Also, the spacecraft should move incredibly fast to get there in a reasonable amount of time – but this requires a lot of fuel. And the necessary fuel loads will make the spacecraft too heavy.
However, some researchers have found a way out of the current situation – it is necessary to use a solar, laser system or microwave sail. Such a spacecraft will not require any fuel; but in order to provide the necessary acceleration to the big vehicle, people will have to develop a huge orbital laser module, and equip the spacecraft itself with a sail of Texas size.
At the present time, it is real to solve the problem with the help of tiny sailing spacecraft. Space laser system probes that have just one gram weight will be put into the Earth orbit, and then accelerated by a laser beam of high quality. Each probe will be equipped by tiny optical sensors and transmitters to communicate with the Earth. In addition, the system can be developed and improved gradually, since even the use of heavier probes or a less powerful laser beam will allow exploring several distant parts of the solar system.
The system requires the use of a laser module with a power of 50 to 70 gigawatts because it will enable to accelerate the probe with a meter sail to 26% of the speed of light in just ten minutes. Such a space probe will reach Mars orbit in 10 minutes, it will pass the Voyager-1 in three days and arrive in the Alpha Centauri star system in fifteen years.
In order for the idea realization, scientists will have to find a way to focus and very accurately direct the laser beam, as well as develop a tiny and light transmitter so that the space probes can transmit the received data to the Earth.
Nevertheless, it will take almost 10 years to wait for the first probe launch, but now the development is going according to plan and promises the realization of the most ambitious projects. The principle of the laser system operation is the following: the fiber laser will send a signal from Earth into its orbit. The laser beam is captured and converted into kinetic energy, which is used for movement. It sounds like science fiction, but it’s actually pretty simple.
The laser system modules will be installed at high mountains, and the power of the emitters will be about 100 gigawatts. At the same time, special devices will be launched into orbit that will “catch” the laser beam. Each of them was created specifically for this system and is very different from the conventional space sensor:
- its diameter is 13 ft;
- the device weight is not more than 0.001 pounds;
- the thickness of the device is only 400 atoms.
In fact, the devices are a light haze, so that they can accelerate to 200 million km per hour with the help of a laser system. The space probe’s first mission is the studying of Proxima Centauri, and even these ultralight laser module vehicles will be able to reach the destination point only after 25 years.
Light weight is needed not only for quick acceleration but in theory, it will help avoid collisions with asteroids. In this case, a small spacecraft has all the necessary equipment to obtain detailed information about the surrounding space. By the way, the very idea of mini-satellites has already been realized, and in 2017, Indian engineers tested mechanisms of 0,009 pounds, which successfully transmitted data to Earth for the first time.
At the same time, it is believed that future spacecraft will be able to use black holes as powerful launching platforms for studying stars that is one more laser application. A new study involves the emission of laser beams from a spacecraft along the edge of a black hole, which will bend around the latter because of its powerful gravity and return with added energy. After the fact, the spacecraft will “catch” these laser beams, thereby obtaining free energy, which can be used on its acceleration up to the speed of light.
Also, laser modules can be actively used for data transmission in space. So a group of physicists from Switzerland has developed a fiber laser that generates a super-hot laser beam that allows making holes in the clouds. Another laser beam containing the whole information can be directed into such holes.
The laser developed in Geneva allows transmitting 10000 times more information than by radio waves. Until today, the problem was in the clouds and fog that occasionally appeared in the atmosphere, stopped the laser beams and distorted data.
In this case, physicists have developed a laser system that heats the air in the right place to a temperature above 1500 degrees Celsius. As a result, a hole with a diameter of several centimeters is formed in the cloud.
A tunnel made by a laser beam can be maintained for some time while another beam transmits data. Scientists have tested their development on artificial clouds of 1.6 ft, but they contained 10000 times more water per square centimeter than natural clouds. The new method works even if the clouds are in motion.
It is quite possible that in the near future, such laser systems will allow communicating with possible aliens. Astrophysicists have calculated that hypothetical astronomers at Proxima Centravra b – an exoplanet that revolves around a star that is 4.2 years from Earth – would be able to pick up a signal sent using a two-megawatt laser module and an optical telescope with a 115 ft mirror.
The researchers calculated that if you used a powerful laser system and focused its beam using an optical telescope, the infrared radiation of the received signal could reach exoplanets, both rotating around our nearest Proxima Centauri and TRAPPIST-1 planets located at a distance of 40 light years from Earth. According to scientists, such laser beams can be a kind of signs, the light from which extends to distances up to 20 thousand light years.
For example, powerful laser systems developed for the military aims already have needful power. Scientists specify that it will be necessary to install the fiber laser system at high points like powerful telescopes to reduce the noise of the Earth’s atmosphere, which can interfere with signal transmission. It should also be noted that much more powerful telescopes should be used to transmit such a signal.
In addition to these potential fields of laser module application, they are used by NASA to study the ice layer of the Earth. Not so long ago, a NASA satellite was launched to Earth orbit from a California space center to study the state of the Earth’s ice cover.
The mission of an artificial satellite, called ICESat-2, is to provide more accurate information about the influence of global warming on the ice layer by a laser system.
As the name suggests, ICESat-2 is the second version of the satellite. The first spacecraft was launched in 2003 and it carried out a laser module test of the thickness of polar glaciers and sea ice from space for the first time. However, the mission faced technical problems, as a result of which observations were limited to only a couple of months in a year.
Since then, NASA has improved laser technology, making the observation process more reliable and focused. So, the laser beam is divided into six parts – three pairs, so we can see a larger surface of the ice, as well as evaluate the surface slope. The same ground surfaces will be measured every three months, giving us seasonal ice shots. It is possible to understand the processes associated with the reduction of ice in the polar regions due to the data.
The new laser system that weighs half a ton, is one of the largest surface observation tools ever created by NASA. It uses photon counting technology. The probe emits 10 thousand laser pulses per second and the laser module measures every 3 ft as it moves along the ice surface. Also, it should be mentioned that the laser beam cannot melt the ice from a height of 3280 ft. But on a dark night, it is possible to see a green mark in the sky – this is the ICESat-2 satellite flying.
Moreover, laser systems are a possible solution for cleaning space from debris. Thus, an international team of scientists is developing a laser system to deal with space debris. Fiber lasers are expected to protect the space station from collisions with dangerous alien elements. Nevertheless, according to analysts, physicists will have to overcome a number of technological difficulties. In particular, it will be necessary to find a balance between the power and energy intensity of the laser system.
Scientists are developing quite powerful laser modules that can change the orbits of small space debris – up to 0.3 ft in diameter. However, all the electric power generated by the ISS will be required to launch such a laser system, and it will completely leave the station without electricity.
Physicists confirm that space debris will dissolve under the influence of the laser module, forming a cloud of microscopic particles that pose no threat to the ISS covering or any other space equipment. At present, an impressive amount of garbage has accumulated in Earth orbit, but the situation is still far from critical.
At the moment, the scientists propose to use special flying satellites and even special nets that will catch space debris. However, so far all these laser techniques are rather difficult to put into practice. The use of a laser technology that will dissolve parts of space debris seems to be the most realistic.
Despite the fact that laser technology still needs to be developed, it is considered to be very promising. Optromix is a fast-growing manufacturer of fiber lasers, optical fiber sensors, and optical monitoring systems. The company offers fast turnkey solutions and creates sophisticated fiber laser systems for special purposes. Optromix uses only its own technologies based on the advanced research work and patents of international R&D team and develops a broad variety of high beam quality fiber lasers. If you have any questions or would like to buy a fiber laser system, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org