NASA predicts it would take about 500 days for humans to reach the Red Planet, but Canadian engineers say a laser-based system could cut that journey to just 45 days.
The US space agency is planning to send a crew to the Red Planet in the middle of the 2030s, around the same time China also plans to land humans on Mars.
Engineers from McGill University, in Montreal, Canada, say they have developed a ‘laser-thermal propulsion’ system, where lasers are used to heat hydrogen fuel.
It is directed-energy propulsion, using large lasers fired from Earth to deliver power to photovoltaic arrays on a spacecraft, that generate electricity, and in turn thrust.
The spacecraft accelerates very quickly while near Earth, then races towards Mars over the next month, releasing the main vehicle to land on the Red Planet and returning the rest of the vehicle to Earth to be recycled for the next launch.
Reaching Mars in just six weeks is something previously only thought possible using nuclear fission powered rockets, which present increased radiation risks.
How are the people on Mars to return to earth? Or is this colonisation from the start?
Canadian engineers must defect to TX ASAP.
Slow news day combined with grant seeking. This “Some research predicts it could send a 200lb satellite to Mars in just three days, with a more massive spacecraft requiring about a month to six weeks.” is BS. How will they slow it down except “very suddenly”!
Also “The hypothetical spacecraft the team created would require a 32ft diameter, 100 megawatt array of lasers, to be built somewhere on the Earth.” Somewhere! How will they focus the beam?
Also “returning the rest of the vehicle to Earth to be recycled for the next launch.” how? By elastic band? Also I´m pretty sure sentence 2 & 3 are techno-babble.
“‘Our spacecraft is like a dragster that accelerates very quickly while still near Earth,’ Duplay explained,’ and the approach could help get it back from Mars, where there won’t be a large laser array, ready to send it on its way.
‘We believe we can even use the same laser-powered rocket engine to bring the booster back into earth orbit, after it has thrown the main vehicle to Mars, enabling it to be quickly recycled for the next launch,’ he told Universe Today.
The inflatable reflector is key to the technology working properly, as it would be designed to be very reflective so it can sustain a greater laser power per unit area than a photovoltaic panel.
This is what makes the mission feasible with a relatively modest – 32 ft diameter – laser array on the Earth.
By reducing time in space, astronauts face lower levels of radiation, which could make a trip to Mars and back considerably safer.” From the article.
I am sticking with the “news” that Mike Lindell is dropping pillows by helicopters, each with with little parachute, to reach the Canadian truckers, since his pillow delivery trucks are blocked at the Canadian border.
When intentional spoof goes beyond fake news but still gets reported as “breaking news”, we are probably are at the end of this long dark disinformation tunnel.
They don´t explain why the rocket will come back and that doesn´t matter since using a fixed LASER site on a rotating Earth to power a craft to Mars is a non-starter due to Earths atmosphere.
Also “The inflatable reflector is key to the technology working properly” along with the di-lithium crystals. It is only 10 meters across at maximum so why bother? Also why are they proposing using lasers from earth to heat the hydrogen on the space craft? Helicon double-layer thrusters (type of ion thruster) seems the more promising and a the Australians had/have a demonstration model under testing.
Since we know the weight (200lbs) time (3 days) distance (ahh 60 million miles?) and power (100 mw continuous output I assume). Someone better than me with the maths should be able to work out if it´s feasible.
The laser doesn’t have to shine on this spacecraft for the entire journey. It will quickly accelerate the craft to full speed and the craft would basically glide to Mars and break using the Martian atmosphere. I wondered about the same thing with the laser powered light sails. The light sails need only a few minutes of laser light to accelerate sufficiently to reach Proxima Centauri.
How it returns, I don’t know. It’ll be a while before a similar laser facility could be installed on Mars. Maybe some small Hall thrusters would send the craft on a long, slow return flight to Earth.
This is an intriguing idea, a great idea. Beyond the laser-thermal propulsion system, the idea seems similar to Russia’s nuclear powered space tug. What I found even more exciting was the fleeting mention of the Breakthrough Starshot project using lasers to power light sail probes to “Proxima Centauri at relativistic speeds.” Another interesting part of this concept is that it proposes fleets of these light sail powered nanocraft for mission redundancy for this literal journey to the stars. The nanocraft are to be cheap, too, about the cost of an iPhone.
Also, wouldn’t both this Canadian laser-thermal propulsion and the Breakthrough Starshot projects benefit from installing lasers on the far side of the Moon?
It might make more sense to put the lasers at Earth-Moon L4 or L5 – they would have a wider field of view that way.
You may be interested to read the original paper, written by people almost certainly better than you or I at math.
The section on Aerocapture Modelling covers your first question of how to stop the thing. The authors model Martian atmospheric aerocapture solutions for an acceleration limit of 8g (deceleration) – albeit these g forces would be experienced over several minutes. Steely-eyed missile men only need apply.
The approach velocities modeled are up to 16,000m/s and the deceleration gets the vehicle into Martian orbit. This figure seems to imply a launch window using Mar’s closest approach to Earth of around 62M km (hey presto 45 days travel, not accounting for acceleration). The authors acknowledge the heat shield loads generated exceed the tolerances of materials in use today, but materials are apparently in development that can handle it. They do caveat their results by saying “..the practicality of such a maneuver [Martian aerocapture from 16km/s] is still uncertain”.
Incidentally, if the laser array can accelerate at a steady 1g (nice for humans) it would take less than half an hour to reach 16,000km/s. This short duration appears a key part of the design in using an Earth-based laser array, which of course would struggle to maintain focus over hours as then Earth rotates:
TY, ill give it a read.
Aero capture is not going to slow a craft that can get to Mars in 3 days, heat wont matter since the atmosphere isn´t dense enough anyway. How it the rocket supposed to return to Earth? Also who is going to build this LASER that will have to power the craft beyond geostationary orbit? The more I think about the lasers, the more i think about SHARKS.
My mistake, I miss saw what I saw, the pic answers my question on the rocket.
Having read the paper, all I can say is it is fan-fiction. Lasers from Earth are assumed just to work, Earth atmosphere is no problem, aim is solved by more and bigger arrays, up to 1km. Material science is not an issue, etc.
There is just nothing there. It just Laser = heat = trip to Mars with aero-breaking in 45 days. Why 45 days, because NASA said so.
As it turns out, in the acknowledgements, it is a design study so that explains things. It had that first year, lets just make sure we get the basics right and not fail, feel. Now a lot of the problems could be solved by just putting the Laser in space, say in a Polar orbit.
Do we get to vote who goes on the first test flight?
A joint flight with Biden and Trudeau😉
I have been working with a brilliant nuclear engineer who has a much better nuclear-thermal space propulsion (NTSP) system design than those currently being developed.This system could support travel to Mars (plus many other useful applications) in about three months. It would also be useful for surface to orbit use, “in orbit”use and lunar/Mars surface energy production. This engineer has been involved in the currently leading NASA funded NTSP work funded. He is currently distracted developing a very novel nuclear fission energy system that is about one year into a three year demonstration process. When he has “time to breathe”, and can fully staff up on his existing project he will likely focus on moving his NTSP technology to demonstration.
Dear Colonel, This paper sounds like an unfunded mission concept proposal that was converted into a paper (to support a future mission concept proposal to NASA). Have done that myself (though we didnt get funded in a second round).
Probably will not provide all the answers they claim, but important technology, for, for example, powering supplies from earth to Mars orbit at lower cost than rockets (if the laser is in Geo orbit.
It’s going to be Stuhlinger’s ion drive or bust. The improvements in compact nuclear reactor designs have been amazing, and the levels of thrust achieved prior to the end of NERVA were sufficient to easily get a vehicle from high orbit to Mars in a couple of weeks. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NERVA