- NASA and China plan to mount the team missions to Mars in upcoming years. It also contains logistical and technological challenges.
- The study showed that the ultimate use of directed-energy propulsion would be to launch a LightSail into space for actual interstellar travel.
- Developing the rapid transit system between Earth and Mars will speed up the creation of infrastructure between Earth and Mars.
In the next decade, for Mars scientists to take the huge step forward in space exploration, it also poses substantial logistical and technological obstacles. For starters, trips to Mars can only be launched every 26 months when our two planets are at their closest points in their orbits during an obstruction. In addition, it would take 6 to 9 months to travel from Earth to Mars using present technology.
NTP/NEP, nuclear-thermal and nuclear-electric propulsion, is a one-way transit that can take 100 days to reach Mars. However, a team of experts from McGill University in Montreal investigated the possibilities of a laser-thermal propulsion system.
According to their research, a spacecraft powered by a revolutionary propulsion technology that uses lasers to heat hydrogen fuel might reduce travel durations to Mars to just 45 days.
The further research and study were led by Emmanuel Duplay, a McGill graduate and current MSc Aerospace Engineering student at TU Delft. Their study is known as “Design of a rapid transit to Mars mission using laser-thermal propulsion.” It is submitted to the journal Astronomy and Astronomy.
What are the views of the directed-energy (DE) propulsion?
Directed-energy (DE) propulsion has been subject in recent years and is considered for research and interest. The example contains the Starlight Program, also identified as the Directed Energy Propulsion for Interstellar Exploration (DEEP-IN) and Directed Energy Interstellar Studies (DEIS) Programs.
These programs are developed by Prof. Phillip Lubin and the UCSB ECG that is the Experimental Cosmology Group and Program. These programmers, part of NASA-funded research that began in 2009, aim to adapt large-scale DE applications for interstellar voyages.
In 2013, Breakthrough Starshot and Project Dragonfly emerged from a design study hosted by the Initiative for Interstellar Studies (i4iS). These ideas propose using a gigawatt-power laser array to accelerate a LightSail and a tiny spacecraft to fractions of the speed of light that is relativistic speeds to reach nearby star systems in decades rather than years or millennia.
Discovered facts that explained by Duplay and his colleagues
While explaining the fact in the mail, Duplay elaborates that the ultimate use of directed-energy propulsion would be to propel a LightSail to the stars for actual interstellar travel, which inspired our research team.
We were curious about how the same laser technology may be employed for rapid transit in the solar system, which we hope will be a near-term stepping stone that can demonstrate the concept.
Factors of the Directed-energy (DE)
DE is being researched for use in various additional space exploration applications. For example, power beaming to and from spacecraft and permanently shadowed habitats such as the Artemis Program, communications, asteroid defense.
Also, the search for putative techno signatures is all part of this. NASA is also looking at a laser-electric spacecraft concept as a collaborative study between the UCSB ECG and MIT.
Does Duplay’s concept is related to these applications?
Duplay’s concept is related to it, and he also explained this. However, he said that their technique is complementary to these proposals. It uses the same phased-array laser principle but a considerably more intense laser flux on the spaceship to heat fuel directly.
It is much like a gigantic steam pot that allows the spacecraft to accelerate swiftly while still close to Earth, reducing the requirement for the laser to aim as far into space.
Further, he said, their spaceship is similar to a dragster that accelerates rapidly while remaining close to Earth. We believe we can utilize the same laser-powered rocket engine to return the booster to Earth orbit after it has launched the main vehicle to Mars, allowing it to be easily recycled for the next launch.
The statements are important to explain as there is no later array at Mars to decelerate the spacecraft once it lands on Mars. Duplay mentioned that the inflatable reflector is the key from other architectures designed and developed to be highly reflective and can easily sustain a greater laser power per unit area. In addition, the photovoltaic panel makes this mission more feasible with the modest laser size of the array as compared to the other electric propulsion of lasers.
Rapid transit system between Earth and Mars
The development of a rapid transit system speeds the conception of infrastructure between the Earth and Mars. This could be a gateway such as a space station in orbit of Mars or Mars Base Camp proposed by Lockheed Martin. However, it is most likely the laser array to decelerate incoming spacecraft.
The availability of these features will hasten the plans to generate a permanent human presence on the surface. As per Professor Higgins’s conclusion, The Mars-in-45-days design research, conducted by Emmanuel, was prompted by the need to investigate potential near-term applications of the phased array laser technology developed by Philip Lubin’s group.
The ability to transfer energy deep into space with a laser would be a game-changer in propulsion and power. Our research looked at the thermal laser technique, which appears promising, but the laser technology itself is the true game-changer.