Some South Coast researchers are working on a potentially revolutionary new approach to space flight, using lasers to propel craft to other planets or stars in a faction of the current time. They say it's theoretically possible to reduce a trip to Mars from nine months, to around four weeks.
UC Santa Barbara physic professor Dr. Philip Lubin says making deep space exploration practical requires a radical change in thinking. He says the rockets we use now are based on eight decade old technology, and have reached their practical limits. Lubin says the chemistry rockets like the ones developed by SpaceX are certainly more efficient than those a half century ago, but are still limited by basic physics.
So, the researcher says NASA, and others interested in this field are looking at alternatives to traditional rockets. He, and his lab are looking at a light based system, which would use lasers to move craft at many times the speed of conventional spacecraft.
He says the idea is to test this concept using tiny craft, the size of a computer wafer.
They’ve been working on the concept at UCSB. The team include Varun Iyer and Nic Rupert. Rupert created a tiny spacecraft which fits in the palm of your hand. It was put on board a small plane for an around the world trip, and sent back data as a test of the ability to miniaturize the technology.
But, Lubin says their main focus is on the propulsion system.
The researcher says they look at this process like climbing a ladder. How long will it take to get to the top? Lubin says this laser propelled technology could be a practical reality in 30 to 60 years if we get serious about pursuing it.
Link to Dr. Philip Lubin's Ted Talk: www.ted.com/speakers/philip_lubin
Link to UCSB Experimental Cosmology Group: web.deepspace.ucsb.edu/