Russian scientists have proposed a novel way to accelerate a spaceship while in flight – firing a ground-based laser up its backside.
In the process called laser ablation, a super high powered, focused laser beam can strike the surface of an object in space, and burn off that surface material, producing a plume of charged plasma particles that generates thrust.
It’s a process that has been considered as a way to potentially blast space debris out of Earth orbit, but in this case it’s seen as a way to provide extra thrust for a spaceship, without having to carry the primary energy supply on board the ship. Moreover, the ship does need to carry enough extra surface metal to be burned off in the ablation process.
A team of Russian scientists led by Yuri Rezunkov at the Institute of Optoelectronic Instrument Engineering, Russia, has now found a new way to use laser ablation to provide additional acceleration – by using it to increase the efficiency and thrust of regular gas blasting rockets.
The researchers show that the effectiveness of current laser-propulsion techniques is limited by numerous factors including the production of shock waves that “choke” the inlet of the nozzle, reducing thrust.
But those effects can be reduced with the help of a laser-ablation plasma plume that is redirected so that it will flow close to the interior walls of the nozzle. Coupling the ablation jet with supersonic gas flow through the nozzle, they find, significantly improves the overall thrust generated by the nozzle.
“Summarizing the data obtained, we can forecast the application of the supersonic laser propulsion techniques not only for launching small satellites to Earth orbits but also for additional acceleration of supersonic aircraft to achieve Mach 10 and more,” Rezunkov said.
Originally published in The Optical Society and later in Gizmag. Image courtesy of solarseven and Nikonaft/Shutterstock