Scientists and science fiction writers alike have dreamed of aircraft and spacecraft that are propelled by beams of light rather than conventional fuels. Now, a new method for improving the thrust generated by such laser-propulsion systems may bring them one step closer to practical use.
Currently, the maximum speed of a spacecraft is limited by the amount of solid or liquid fuel that it can carry. Achieving higher speeds means that more fuel must be burned — fuel that, inconveniently, has to be carried by the craft and hefted into space. These burdensome loads can be reduced, however, if a laser — one located at a remote location, and not actually on the spacecraft — were used to provide additional propulsive force.
A number of systems have been proposed that can produce such laser propulsion. One of the most promising involves a process called laser ablation, in which a pulsed laser beam strikes a surface, heats it up, and burns off material to create what is known as a plasma plume. The outflowing of that plasma plume — essentially, exhaust — generates additional thrust to propel the craft.
More - Link >>> http://www.scientificcomputing.com/news/2014/10/supersonic-laser-propelled-rockets-may-enable-aircraft-exceed-mach-10?et_cid=4240734&et_rid=544605860&location=top
Sources: The Optical Society, ScientificComputing.com .
2014: 75th Year of Pittsburgh's Buhl Planetarium
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