The photonic laser thruster (PLT) has become a more realistic alternative to propellant based orbital technology after switching up the doping mechanism of ytrrium aluminum garnet, and using a thin disk instead of a rod. Scaling the device up by a hundred times.
A new article out of “Aerospace Research Central” details some progress made in the field of light based thruster technology, bringing us closer to propellant free orbital maneuvering and station-keeping. Electricity and plasma are great but what if we could power a vessel with light instead?
Scientists have recently demonstrated the ability to capture and steer the momentum of light. What if we could eventually power a vessel with no fuel at all – by carefully storing and re-directing sunlight? It would allow us to expand to regions that lie outside the reach of propellant based thrusters, which inherently require more logistics and planning.
A futuristic photon laser thruster would not act as much like a light sail as it might act like a temporary battery, or concentrator of light that can catch, compress and then point it out the other side in the form of a laser beam that propels the craft forward. For now a laser beam may be shot from a satellite toward the craft to power it.
Aerospace scientists improved the device by switching out the neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet (Nd:YAG) rod gain medium for an ytterbium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet (Yb:YAG) thin-disk gain medium 100 X scaling up.
The thruster was demonstrated by propelling and then stopping a 0.75 kg mock cube satellite over 2 m in a Class-1000 cleanroom.
Scientists report that further development of this photonic laser thruster technology using existing methodology is “projected to increase its specific thrust to 68±10 mN/kW, on a par with electric thrusters.”