LAUNCHING ON A BEAM OF LIGHT
Look at a typical rocket and you’ll see
a whole lot of fuel with a little payload
tacked on top. That inef;ciency is a big
part of why it costs about $10,000 per
pound to get a satellite into orbit. It is also
why a group of researchers are investigating a radical alternative that could loft
objects into space far more cheaply—
using lasers instead of chemicals.
Recently declassi;ed work by
aerospace engineer Franklin Mead Jr.
of the Air Force Research Laboratory
and physicist Eric Davis of the Institute
for Advanced Studies at Austin, Texas,
describes this “lightcraft propulsion.”
Their technique aims a high-powered
laser beam upward at a small, low-mass
craft. During takeoff, the laser causes air
at the base of the craft to explode into
a jet of hot plasma, generating thrust.
Beyond the reach of Earth’s atmosphere,
the laser continues to point at the craft’s
underside, heating a propellant material
(such as plastic-based Delrin) that lines
its bottom. Mead has experimented
with small-scale models to prove the
feasibility of light propulsion, and Davis
has investigated how to get the most out
of the laser’s energy. The two research-
ers claim that their design could get
satellites into low Earth orbit for around
$1,400 per pound. “Not carrying the
whole energy source on board reduces
the cost to a fraction of what we’re used
to paying,” Davis says.
Chemical rockets devote a lot of space to fuel. Laser propulsion could reduce that bulk.
21 st Centur
Push Flip-Top closed.
The new Flip-Top Cocktail
Shaker is a feat of hydraulic
engineering and high-tech
sealing technology –
a neater, cooler, easier way
to mix cocktails. There are
advantages to living in the
See video at metrokane.com
Push Flip-Top open. Pour.
Bed, Bath & Beyond, Sur La Table,
Chef’s Catalog, Total Wine & More,
Chef Central, Spec’s Liquors, Macy’s,
Le Gourmet Chef, BevMo!