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NASA Looking To Power Spacecraft With Lasers

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the everything-is-better-with-lasers dept.

NASA 91

msmoriarty writes "NASA has decided to develop methods for using lasers and/or microwave energy to 'provide external power on demand for aerospace vehicles' as part of its 'Game-Changing' technology development program. According to the announcement, 'The project will attempt to develop a low-cost, modular power beaming capability and explore multiple technologies to function as receiving elements of the beamed power. This combination of technologies could be applied to space propulsion, performance and endurance of unpiloted aerial vehicles or ground-to-ground power beaming applications. Development of such capabilities fulfills NASA's strategic goal of developing high payoff technology and enabling missions otherwise unachievable with today's technology."

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91 comments

I approve of this technology (0, Offtopic)

sortius_nod (1080919) | more than 2 years ago | (#37465622)

next... sharks with frickin lasers!

Re:I approve of this technology (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37465746)

I knew the shark comment was coming. Quit it. It's not funny anymore.

Re:I approve of this technology (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37466374)

It can be, but you have to finesse it a little. "Lasers would be cool, but how will the sharks breath in space?"

Re:I approve of this technology (1)

Geotopia (692701) | more than 2 years ago | (#37476740)

How about giant laser canons on Mars? Oh, never mind, that's not useful for spacecraft, I was confusing the use of lasers with creating (or saving) green jobs.

How about getting humans back into space? (2, Insightful)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 2 years ago | (#37465654)

Wow, that's great. It's just a shame that NASA can't get humans into space.

Oh, wait . . . scratch that. It should read, "It's just a shame that Congress isn't capable of letting NASA get humans into space."

Re:How about getting humans back into space? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37465682)

Don't worry, the Chinese will probably copy this technology for their manned space missions.

Re:How about getting humans back into space? (1, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 2 years ago | (#37466010)

How? Did NASA have China build the rockets?

Re:How about getting humans back into space? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37466554)

No, but China has loads of spies in the west esp. for anything with military relevance.

Re:How about getting humans back into space? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37467430)

No, Germans.

Re:How about getting humans back into space? (2)

Gilmoure (18428) | more than 2 years ago | (#37467936)

China's going to copy our Germans?

Re:How about getting humans back into space? (1)

KingBenny (1301797) | more than 2 years ago | (#37500860)

either that or they aim it down and fry your brain from space? isn't this what Tesla spent his whole life trying to achieve ? Also if energy diminishes relative to distance, i'd like to see this happen before the year 2100 . Correctio, i hope to see this happen

Re:How about getting humans back into space? (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37466282)

Why? How is that important in any way? We've been there, you know. It's empty. It's like complaining Congress isn't putting any humans in the bottom of the ocean or into zeppelins. It's just not relevant anymore. The fantasies and delusions didn't pay off. It's over. Move on.

Re:How about getting humans back into space? (1)

Zibodiz (2160038) | more than 2 years ago | (#37468712)

While I know I'm feeding a troll, the bottom of the ocean is far from 'empty'. I (and many others) feel that there should be as much energy expended on exploring it as there has been for exploring space.
On that note, I wonder how this 'power beaming' could work underwater. There is a great deal of power loss with AC electricity underwater... would insulated light have less loss?
Oh, by the way, we're also developing better zeppelins right now -- for military uses. For the Congress.

Re:How about getting humans back into space? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37470752)

"feel that there should be as much energy expended on exploring it as there has been for exploring space."

Good, but usually Space Nutters don't see it like that.

"There is a great deal of power loss with AC electricity underwater."

I've not actually heard that the losses are because it's underwater, I don't see why that would be. At any rate, we use HVDC now. This is an example of how the progress of real technology, which Space Nutters *claim* to be all for, actually obviates the need for their fantasy technology. We don't need space based lasers or underwater ones.

"Oh, by the way, we're also developing better zeppelins right now -- for military uses. For the Congress."

You keep fucking that chicken; the real reason is we're running out of oil. Another thing the Space Nutters won't accept. No oil? No planes, let alone rockets.

Re:How about getting humans back into space? (1)

Coren22 (1625475) | more than 2 years ago | (#37471624)

Can we rename this troll to "Land nutter"? What you call space nuttery is in fact science based fact. Get over yourself, not everyone thinks like you and is shortsighted like you.

Re:How about getting humans back into space? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37478352)

Really? It's a fact that humans have to colonize space? It's a fact that humans thrive in a vacuum? You're mentally deranged, and I will GLADLY be a "land nutter" instead of a deranged, howling lunatic begging to go into a deadly, hostile vacuum.

Re:How about getting humans back into space? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37469188)

But I have brand new fantasies and delusions, and demand some kind of payoff for them, you insensitive clod!!!

Why bother for now? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37467398)

It would be ridiculously expensive and dangerous, and it would tell us little that safer one-way robot missions cannot tell us for a fraction of the price.

Don't get me wrong, I am as excited as anyone about space exploration and colonization; but the point is, for now the technology just isn't mature enough.

Now, one could argue that sending people in space would be a good way to test our current technology and improve it; but the point is, most of the research and the testing that we _could_ do in space can be done just as well by unmanned missions, or by earth-based experiments.

Re:How about getting sharks into space? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37468736)

Perhaps NASA should try sharks with laser beams? ;)

Re:How about getting humans back into space? (1)

Keith Henson (1588543) | more than 2 years ago | (#37488104)

The basic physics says beamed energy is a good idea.

Beamed energy lets you get about twice the exhaust velocity you can get with the best chemical fuels.

That changes the mass ratio from 7.4 (to LEO with best chemical) to 3.

That's the difference between 13.5% structure, engines and payload to 33% The minimum for reusable is thought to be around 15%, so the payload fraction goes from -1.5% to perhaps 18% of take off mass.

Keith Henson

Keep on with science (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37465690)

If it does work, efficiently and at long range, we can finally get started on sending solar collectors up into space for space based solar power. [wikipedia.org] Which'll go a damned long way towards moving us along the way to a type I civilization [wikipedia.org].

And, if we happen to get excess power, maybe we can funnel that off into building a mass driver so we can get back up to space cheaply and efficiently instead of this irritating rocket based technology.

GET ON IT NASA! Work on REAL advances instead of listening to people harping on about sending people into space in order to do...what, exactly? Make people on the ground feel good about themselves? (If they advance their robots enough, a robot will be able to do experiments just as well as a human with proper human supervision)

Re:Keep on with science (3, Insightful)

neyla (2455118) | more than 2 years ago | (#37465768)

Working (as in safe, efficient, reliable and cost-effective) beaming-technology is one piece of that puzzle, but not the most difficult one to overcome.

solar in space can collect 2-3 times the energy for the same size and quality cells. (no clouds, 24 hour illumination, no atmosphere) minus the unavoidable transmission-losses, you may still come out ahead of earth-based solar.

However, being twice as efficient helps not at all, when you are also a thousand times as expensive. Launch-cost, assembly-cost and maintenance cost, is the killer. We'd need a space-elevator or in-space-manufacturing to significantly change this.

Re:Keep on with science (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37467536)

"We'd need a space-elevator or in-space-manufacturing to significantly change this."

But then, why would you need space-based solar? Do you have *any* idea of the colossal, VAST amounts of energy you'd need for a space elevator? I mean, if such as thing were even remotely possible? It isn't, BTW. It would be like 19th century engineers contemplating the size of steam locomotives they could build with fusion reactors. It makes no sense, and for all practical purposes, it's fantasy anyways.

Re:Keep on with science (1)

Rolgar (556636) | more than 2 years ago | (#37468164)

An elevator, if built would be worth it. Consider that we could daily send up more matter in a day than we currently lift in a year, for a fraction of the cost. People could ride up just for the fun of it. Is it currently technically feasible? Of course not, but decades of inexpensive lifting material into space will pay for itself eventually, and after that, it's practically free. But that only comes into play if the technical limitations are eventually overcome.

All neyla was saying is that rocket launched solar power can never be cost competitive because the cost of setting up the system is hundreds of times more expensive than the cost of setting up the same hardware in the desert, and doubling or even tripling efficiency will never make up that cost differential. The only way to reduce the cost of getting solar panels into space is to use something far more cost efficient, like a space elevator, or launching a panel manufacturing facility, finding the necessary materials, and building the materials in space without ever having to lift them out of the gravity well, which also isn't currently feasible.

Re:Keep on with science (1)

del_diablo (1747634) | more than 2 years ago | (#37468808)

If I remember my random knowledge correct:
A space elevator would cost 20 billions in RnD, which is quite cheap.
Why has nobody sat down and done it? Because simpelly nobody has.

Re:Keep on with science (1)

Dog-Cow (21281) | more than 2 years ago | (#37470398)

That's utterly retarded statement. Until the RnD is done, how could you possibly know how much it would cost? Or is that figure the upper bounds before everyone gives up?

Re:Keep on with science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37471756)

IIRC, the reason they already have a plausible number range for R&D costs is that almost all of the cost is in plain old engineering. Things that haven't been done exactly in this way before, but that are all known to be within the capabilities of already invented stuff; there are reliable ways to predict the budget for this kind of work. (As opposed to nuclear fusion, which still requires knowledge and materials that don't exist yet).

The only really variable cost is figuring out the technique to get the cable as strong as we want it; but, again, the target number is only a few times the strength already achieved, and well within the strength we know that can eventually be achieved.

Re:Keep on with science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37470982)

"Consider that we could daily send up more matter in a day than we currently lift in a year,"

So what? Is there too much matter on the Earth?

"People could ride up just for the fun of it. I"

Oh yes, "people". Poor ones? Old ones? Out of shape ones? There are already many ways you can have fun in the air, skydiving, hang gliding, ultra light, helicopter, Cessna 172, you can rent MiGs in Russia, you can walk on the edge of skyscrapers. You do that? You know anyone who does? Why do you think suddenly they''ll want to ride a (hypothetical, completely unfeasible) space elevator? It's nonsense.

"Is it currently technically feasible? Of course not,"

Of course not. And that's not even the right question. Is it even remotely PHYSICALLY possible? *NO*!! We'd need new *PHYSICS*, never mind glue or carbon fiber!

You're a clueless child, repeating the mindless pablum of his youth as if it were real, actual science and engineering. It isn't. It never was. It's junk.

Re:Keep on with science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37472242)

What "new physics" would a space elevator require?

Re:Keep on with science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37475280)

Tensile strength of interatomic bonds of any real material is simply too low. Unless you can invoke scrith, or neutronium, it won't happen. Now suppose we *did* have this technology/physics, why would putting solar panels in space be important? You think a few GW of *electricity* are going to matter at that point? You just built a planetary-scale structure *without* solar-based power.... Like I said, it's like giving a fusion power plant to 19th century engineers and wondering what kind of steam locomotive they'll come up with. If you have it, you just changed the world utterly, you don't NEED it anymore! It's self-defeating.

I really, REALLY think you need an education in materials science. Your blissful naiveté is funny to me, but ignorance is no defense when proposing such ludicrous schemes when you have free on-line educational material.

Also, you seem to lack real-world perspective on what's actually feasible technologically. Sit down and work out some numbers, you'll see a Space Elevator is nothing but geek crack, porn for the technocrats who want to solve all the world's problems with improbable, unfeasible unrealistic fantasy technology.

I mean, why not just build a Ringworld? Why would that not be possible?

Re:Keep on with science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37480520)

The only problem you have described is one of materials strength.

You failed to cite any reason why this problem requires "new physics" to solve.

You failed to back up your assertion that no material of sufficient strength could ever be produced, or to show why, to take one example, carbon nanotubes could not solve the problem in sufficient amounts.

You failed to show how the production of such material would require any particular amount of energy, let alone more energy than a space elevator would facilitate access to.

You are acutely and painfully aware of the facts I have just outlined, and this is why you tried to cover for your failures by inventing a characterization to project onto me, when all I did was ask a simple and straightforward question regarding your claim. Were you knowledgeable about the subject and confident in your ability to speak intelligently on it, you would have answered it. Since you are not but hope to appear so, you have chosen to attempt to hide your ignorance from yourself and the world using mockery. It hasn't worked.

None of what I have said should be taken as any particular endorsement of the feasibility of a space elevator. It may well be impossible. But the case made by others that it is possible is thus far stronger than the one made by you that it isn't.

Questioning you does not make one "naive" or "childish" or any other pejorative you fling out of frustration with your own inability to argue the facts.

Now make your case intelligently, or admit that you can't. Those are your only possible choices.

Re:Keep on with science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37481834)

I urge you to find these things out for yourself; indeed, I could type my fingers down to the knuckles and you'd still not be convinced. It's like a religion, only YOU can decide to face reality. Look, pick up any introductory text on materials and look up something called the work of fracture. End. Of. Story.

You have also failed to provide a single real-world practical use for a Space Elevator. There simply is no need for one. Space will still be empty, it will still be hostile, humans will still be short-lived and fragile. And, you also failed to address the simple fact that *if* we _could_ build one, that would demonstrate that we *didn't* need space *at all* to build colossal projects to get into space; therefore it's as self-defeating as fusion-powered steam locomotives.

The breakthroughs you'd need for a Space Elevator would change so many things radically that the question becomes : "Why are you obsessed with a decades-old ideology of space?"

Just like if you have the physics and technology for a real, practical fusion power source, you don't need steam locomotives anymore. Is that clear enough for you?

So, why not build a Ringworld?

Re:Keep on with science (1)

Nyrath the nearly wi (517243) | more than 2 years ago | (#37467772)

Yeah, right, like that's ever going to happen. The great unwashed are irrationally terrified that cell phones and wifi are causing brain cancer. How do you think they are going to react to giant solar collectors directing huge beams of freaking microwaves at the Earth? "Diabolical scientists plot to turn the planet into a microwave oven, film at eleven"

Re:Keep on with science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37468912)

I for one welcome the Orbital Death-Ray power plant.

Burning air? (2)

Misagon (1135) | more than 2 years ago | (#37465728)

If the laser propulsion tech that they are talking about is focusing light to create plasma of the surrounding air, then would this not create enormous amounts of ozone as a by-product?

Re:Burning air? (2)

Hermanas (1665329) | more than 2 years ago | (#37465750)

would this not create enormous amounts of ozone as a by-product?

In the past, yes. But nowadays... shut the hell up!

Re:Burning air? (1)

Cinnamon Whirl (979637) | more than 2 years ago | (#37465766)

That was what I assumed it was too, and TFA didn't give any details ("Ride the Light" sounds like a new rollercoaster).
I would imagine, with the amount of use this technology would get (i.e., number of launches) that any ozone created would be tiny as compared with the amount in the upper atmosphere.*

But I dont see how this will get us into space. The higher the craft, the less efficient the push per beam of light.

* This argument may have been made about CFCs, exhaust emission, etc so I may have to eat my words...

Re:Burning air? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37466172)

"Ride the Light" was also the old slogan of Qwest Communications.

Re:Burning air? (2)

s_p_oneil (795792) | more than 2 years ago | (#37467596)

They've had a proof-of-concept of sorts for this for a long time. Here's a Science@NASA article from 1999 explaining it:
http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/1999/prop16apr99_1/ [nasa.gov]

The craft is saucer-shaped, but it accelerates straight upward while it's still low in the atmosphere. From TFA:

"That seems wrong but for another trick. The microwaves are reflected forward to create a superhot bubble of air above the craft and form an air spike that acts as the nose cone as the Lightcraft accelerates to 25 times the speed of sound. This cleans up the aerodynamics of a vehicle that does not look like it should fly in that direction. Even better, when the load is properly balanced the craft sails through the air without leaving a shock wave and virtually no supersonic wake."

It's essentially creating a near-vacuum above the craft, which pulls it upward with an incredible amount of force (while moving air out of the way to eliminate the incredible amount of drag you would expect in that situation). While it is true that the force will weaken as the craft ascends, by then it will already moving fast enough to break away from the Earth's gravity well. TFA mentions getting to the moon in 5.5 hours without needing any fuel on-board (just energy beamed to the craft from space), which is no small feat. The G-forces involved might kill any passengers, but it would still be great to be able to put heavy equipment in space (or on the moon) quickly and cheaply. If you want something like a moon base, this is critical.

Re:Burning air? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37476272)

"Ride the Light" sounds like a new rollercoaster.

Don't you mean "Ride the Snake"?

Re:Burning air? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37465812)

But ozone is completely healthy! In fact more healthy!

Think about your typical oxygen, it is O2 right? Well, this kicks it up a whole extra atom man! O3!

Don't believe in those super-oxygen suppressors, they are lying, trying to hog all the super-oxygen for their own super lives.

Re:Burning air? (-1, Troll)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#37466112)

Isn't Ozone good? I mean before the Carbon Global Warming Panic, there was the Hole on the Ozone layer Panic. Does Ozone suppose to block UV rays that causes skin cancer?

Re:Burning air? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37466574)

Isn't Ozone good? I mean before the Carbon Global Warming Panic, there was the Hole on the Ozone layer Panic. Does Ozone suppose to block UV rays that causes skin cancer?

Lay people using the word panic in an attempt to trivialize the problem and suggest that people are foolishly overreacting are highly counterproductive. The Ozone 'panic' actually led to some global changes, which is allowing the the Hole on (sic) the Ozone layer to slowly regenerate. Rather like the lead-in-gasoline panic a few decades ago which actually led to changes so we don't have to suffer from lead poisoning, or the acid rain panic, which led to less Sulfur being spewed out and as a result, less acid rain. Gosh. Perhaps the word panic should be replaced with 'appropriate response'...

Re:Burning air? (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#37469308)

No we use the word panic, When we are shoved media information with the worst possible outcome being shown as what will most likely to happen.

The Ozone Hole, Acid Rain, Smog examples. Were panics too. But the fact there was change was because they were acceptable replacements.

Re:Burning air? (1)

s_p_oneil (795792) | more than 2 years ago | (#37467670)

Ozone is a very good thing in the upper atmosphere, but it is a very bad thing in the lower atmosphere. From what I've read, I believe it is extremely chemically reactive (O2 is stable, O3 is unstable), which makes it toxic down here. But in the upper atmosphere, there's not much for it to react with, so it just floats around blocking UV rays.

Re:Burning air? (1)

The Immutable (2459842) | more than 2 years ago | (#37471308)

From what I've been told o3 breaks down very quickly in the lower atmosphere making it pretty much a non issue. I doubt this laser thing will create more ozone than your average lightning strike anyway.

Re:Burning air? (1)

s_p_oneil (795792) | more than 2 years ago | (#37471522)

I agree that this probably won't create a significant amount of ozone. However, regarding ozone not being a problem in the lower atmosphere, that's not what I've read. I've read the ozone can be found in harmful levels anywhere that smog is a problem (e.g California, New England, DC):

http://www.epa.gov/region1/airquality/ [epa.gov]
http://www.atmosphere.mpg.de/enid/23c.html [atmosphere.mpg.de]
http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/report-finds-that-washington-baltimore-among-smoggiest-cities-in-the-country/2011/09/21/gIQAYqv8kK_story.html [washingtonpost.com]

If you Google it, you can probably find a bunch more.

Re:Burning air? (1)

Timmmm (636430) | more than 2 years ago | (#37466164)

Haha, I love all the silly little nit picks that slashdotters try to come up with to show off their knowledge. Do you *really* think ozone production would be a problem?

Re:Burning air? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37468430)

We could heal the hole!

Re:Burning air? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37468844)

Calm down, you are really overreacting.

He was just asking a question. Not everyone is a scientist like yourself. Regular joes might be concerned that excess ozone could be bad. We've all heard about people dying from areas of high ozone concentration.

It is a perfectly legitimate question to ask. You may be an egghead, but don't assume everyone else is. There is no such thing as a stupid question.

The next time you post, please think about if you are acting like a jerk or not before commenting. Everybody has a right to ask questions on Slashdot, even if they don't meet your personal level of satisfaction.

Re:Burning air? (1)

SpaceCracker (939922) | more than 2 years ago | (#37466850)

What surrounding air? Aren't we talking about propulsion in SPACE?
I think they mean some form of wireless transmission of energy. If I understand correctly, the trick will be to efficiently convert that energy to motion on the receiving side.

Re:Burning air? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37468582)

If the laser propulsion tech that they are talking about is focusing light to create plasma of the surrounding air, then would this not create enormous amounts of ozone as a by-product?

Don't worry, we're still kinda running a deficit on that. Long term, though, it might be an issue... bring on the CFCs!

How about implementing the other "game-changers"? (3, Insightful)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 2 years ago | (#37465742)

Ion engines have been around for decades now and NASA still celebrates their use as a demonstration of how "high tech" NASA is.

Most satellites and space probes still use extremely inefficient fuels even for large, energy intensive maneuvers - like going from Geostationary Transition Orbit(GTO) to the geostationary orbit (GSO) - mandating that they consist mostly of fuel for those maneuvers and having their life-time limited to however long it takes to deplete the fuel.

Spaceflight is one of the most conservative and unchanging industries out there. There are dozens of game changers that didn't change the game. And using extremely expensive ground installations that will provide only part-time power to a satellite - doing worse than what cheap solar panels can do much better anyway - is a particularly inauspicious candidate to actually do change anything at all.

In short: NASA, do us all a favor and shut up!

Re:How about implementing the other "game-changers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37465820)

Actually one interesting spin-off from this technology could be to discover a viable technology to harvest energy from close to the sun and transport it to the earth. I'm sure this will be something necessary in the next 100-200 years, but alas it seems noone considers planning waaaay ahead of time.

Re:How about implementing the other "game-changers (1)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 2 years ago | (#37465858)

Oh c'mon, NASA couldn't plan ahead for 10 years when it became clear that the Shuttle was history. It couldn't plan ahead and see that constellation was a sham. It couldn't plan ahead a see that Ares I wouldn't work.

It couldn't plan ahead and see that the Space Shuttle - as part of a huge plan to build a space station and spaceships in orbit - was a failure from the start, when budgets for those other projects had not been provided and the Shuttle was the *only* thing that was kept ... as a Shuttle flying nowhere, coming back from nowhere and doing nothing in particular.

Re:How about implementing the other "game-changers (2)

angel'o'sphere (80593) | more than 2 years ago | (#37466948)

It couldn't plan ahead and see that the Space Shuttle - as part of a huge plan to build a space station and spaceships in orbit - was a failure from the start,
It was not a failure from the start. Not only other projects got canceled and made teh shuttle less usefull also the shuttle itself and its missions got stripped down. In the original concepts e.g. it was planned that the huge fuel tanks of the shuttle would go up into orbit with the shuttle. There they would have been decoupled and moved with a small engine into a parking orbit.
And there they would be combined later to a space station.
If that had not been scratched we had now over 130 "tanks" orbiting earth ready to be assembled into space station(s) small crusing space vessels etc.
Also I for myself don't see the shuttle program as a complete failure, after all it gave us Hubble, and let us repair it etc.

Re:How about implementing the other "game-changers (1)

kanto (1851816) | more than 2 years ago | (#37466016)

I'm sure it's only a question of time before the suitable sharks are genetically engineered (couldn't resist). Seriously though, the first step is to establish laser communication with mars [slashdot.org]; after that start to worry about building a laser beam of gigantic energy and not having it wipe out civilization as we know it if it's misaligned by a micrometer.

Yeah, right (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37465754)

And when they're not powering spacecraft, the lasers are loaned out to the department of "defense", for "powering" foreign satellites. It's totally coincidental that tracking a LEO object for the purpose of hitting it with a laser beam is "dual use" technology.

Photonic Laser Thrusters? (1)

a_hanso (1891616) | more than 2 years ago | (#37465770)

Release mentions propulsion. Photonic Laser Thrusters [wikipedia.org] are probably the best way to accelerate a deep space probe if we ever want to see one reach a nearby star in our lifetimes.

Atmospheric lightcraft [wikipedia.org] on the other hand, seem to be doing rather poorly -- so far they've only managed to raise a hat-sized prototype about a hundred meters above the ground.

Beam me up, Scotty! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37465786)

I need to be transported back to the Starship Enterprise

laser thermal rocket (2)

strack (1051390) | more than 2 years ago | (#37465822)

getting stuff into orbit would be a whole lot easier if you aim a array of lasers at a heat exchanger on the launch vehicle, and use it to heat up hydrogen for thrust. it would make easily reusable single stage launch vehicles feasible.

Re:laser thermal rocket (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37467236)

You don't need lasers. Lasers are not efficient and are expensive. Xenon light blubs or microwave will do.

Re:laser thermal rocket (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37468040)

Jerry Pournelle wrote about this in 1979. I believe it was old news to him then even.

Frost '4ist (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37465824)

population as well this post up. troubled OS. Nowb approximately 90%

A Centennial Challenge (3, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#37466142)

NASA has had a Centennial Challenge [nasa.gov] open in power beaming for some years now. From [nasa.gov] :

This challenge is a practical demonstration of wireless power transmission. Practical systems employing power beaming would have a wide range of applications from lunar rovers and space propulsion systems to airships above the Earth. Another future application of power beaming would be the space elevator concept.

In 2009 [spaceelevatorgames.org] the competitors drove their laser-powered devices up a cable one kilometer high, suspended from a helicopter, and LaserMotive LLC was awarded $900,000.

It turns out that it is really tough and actually somewhat dangerous to have a helicopter dangle a 1 km string perfectly vertical. This also "doesn't scale" (i.e., there is no way a helicopter is going to dangle a 5 km string for a longer test), and future competitions will be done horizontally, on the ground. (This also fits in with the idea of power beaming to rovers, say one exploring the always dark Shackleton Crater at the Lunar South pole, which is frankly a more realistic near-term prospect than a terrestrial space elevator.)

I believe there is still $ 2 million (USD) to be awarded, so slashdotters should get to it and go out there and take the Governments money.

Thats funny (2)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#37466230)

I have been writing one senator who sat on the Senate Arms Committee for the last 3 years suggesting that we do an X-Prize in America (or in the west) for 2 technologies.
The first is energy storage. It must have the ability to last for millions of cycles, have the ability to take an extremely fast charge with extreme energy and power densities. Basically, this is almost certainly a better ultra-cap, however, you do not want to limit it just to ultra-caps. If somebody can figure out a new better device that fits the bill, then you want to support it. After all, it is possible (not likely) that a battery would do the trick.
The second IS beaming power. This was to be in steps. The first was to be 1/2 km at 25% efficiency. THat would allow setting up local power. In particular, you can set up a power station and beam it to multiple points without wires. Think of a FOB or any place that needs to be set p quickly, but disassemble quickly as well. From a Civilian POV, it can be used to provide power to earth movers, diggers, etc At 25%, it has the same efficiency of a diesel. It can also be used to float a small balloon over a disaster area and provide local power QUICKLY. In any disaster, providing energy quickly makes the difference of life or death for many ppl. In addition, something like this will be a great deal lighter than loads of generators AND fuel.
Then create 2 X-prize to jump this from .5 to 5 km again at 25%, while the second is .5 Km at 50% efficiency. With a 5 km range, it enables a tank battalion to have electric weapons, with another tank in the rear that can provide lots more power (think a nuke reactor in a tank). In addition, it allows something like an Aircraft Carrier to provide power to other ships that would then have electric weapons. Again for civilian uses, the high efficiency not only improves current equipment, but it will be picked up by Ag tractors, and other new equipment. The 5 km also allows trains to pick this up. With such an approach, it makes it cheap to provide electric power to a train. Maintenance is a huge costs in a train. Likewise, it can provider energy at an airport for electric planes esp. for take-offs. We speak of wanting electric planes, but carrying all your energy is expensive. But the truly expensive portion is getting to altitude. After that time, you cut way back on power. For beaming on a disaster area, 5 kms allows floating the balloon much higher and covering a great deal more area.
Obviously, we need iterative prizes to continue jumping up efficiencies as well as distance. If it was possible to get 90% efficiency at .5 km, while only getting 30% efficiency at 200 miles, it is still major gains all over.

So, good to see that NASA has more brains than my senator. But I guess that was a given.

I really like this approach. If we can get hydrogen to expand via the electric heat, than we can make great strides in space travel. Now, if we can just get CONgress to kill the SLS and devote that money to private space launches as well as advanced R&D like this, we could get America back on track. Sadly, our CONgress is ran by a bunch of MBA/lawyer types esp. the house that are far more interested in helping themselves, rather than our nation.

Jerry Pournelle predicted this in the 1970s (1)

John Bresnahan (638668) | more than 2 years ago | (#37466252)

Jerry Pournelle [jerrypournelle.com] has used this in a number of his stories dating back to the early 1970s.

In addition to The Mote in God's Eye [amazon.com], where aliens used enormous lasers to send a solar sail-based ship across interstellar distances, he described a laser-based system to launch small (VW Beetle-sized) manned capsules into orbit.

Re:Jerry Pournelle predicted this in the 1970s (1)

Shugart (598491) | more than 2 years ago | (#37466350)

Long before Jerry Pournelle and long before lasers, there was E. E. Smith, Phd. In his story "Spacehounds of IPC" that was serialized in Amazing Stories in 1931, a ship was powered by beamed power. I expect there were others even earlier.

Old news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37466428)

Back in 2000, a group of NASA engineers and scientists visited Tennessee Tech. I was a student at the time and went to a meeting with some of the developers of laser ablation technology. My Calculus professor (Andrej Gutek) invited the class to attend that private meeting. Something like half a dozen showed up. If it was viable, it should have made more progress by now, but there is a chance that it got starved for funding. This event [tntech.edu] was related to the same one that Robert Zubrin spoke at and did a book signing for "A Case for Mars".

Copying Portal now for ideas (1)

blahbooboo (839709) | more than 2 years ago | (#37466436)

Come on NASA, best you can come up with on solving power is copying a feature in Portal!?

Orbital Laser (2)

hyades1 (1149581) | more than 2 years ago | (#37466682)

What we really need is a nice, big laser in a nice, high orbit. It should use photovoltaic cells to charge and have the range and power to give a meaningful kick to any spacecraft between Earth and Jupiter.

It would be expensive to build, but if it was done properly, it could provide "free delta v" to a lot of suitably-equipped spacecraft for a very, very long time.

But how are they (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37467200)

Just curious, How are they going to attach sharks to the spacecraft to get the lasers to function?

Remotely powered Space Tug (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37467506)

What NASA needs is a remotely powered space tug that can refuel itself by dipping into the upper region of the atmosphere. The space tug could put satellites into geostationary orbit. Or launch interplanetry probes. It would use MHD drive for high ISP. It would be remotely powered by an high power laser.

weapon applications? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37467912)

Wouldn't aiming a laser at a small, moving target far away be useful for a laser canon?

beaming energy == weapon? (1)

Thaelon (250687) | more than 2 years ago | (#37469174)

Am I the only one that caught on to the fact that "beaming energy" has enormous potential use as a weapon?

I realize that's not the intention, and honestly, I think it's pretty neat, but it's somewhat alarming that the potential abuses do not seem to have been considered.

Re:beaming energy == weapon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37470460)

Weaponization is not automatically an "abuse" of technology.

what would go faster (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37473408)

A defuse laser, or a directed beam ?

Lasers aren't the only game in town (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37476388)

The basic concept of beamed propulsion has been around for a while in various forms (thermal vs electric vs momentum exchange)

These guys are working on the microwave version of an SSTO
http://www.escapedynamics.com/
and laser versions of that have been proposed earlier. Though they still haven't solved the initial launch/horizon firing issues well (ideally want some altitude before you start firing the beam on the SSTO).

In college we worked on a concept to use bimodal NTR reactors attached to Mars bound cargo spacecraft to supply power to a Mars base lander via simple microwave mesh rectenna wrapped around the lander body that popped out using compressed gas and memory metals, coupled to the orbital NTR reactor firing power via segmented phased array microwave transmitter that was previous wrapped around the now empty hydrogen tank used to propel the spacecraft to Mars, to cut out the mass of a mini-nuke on the lander to power an ISRU fuel plant. Unfortunately you need to keep the NTR in a fixed position in the sky, so that meant high orbit, so this wasn't all that viable for NTR's attached to manned spacecraft picking up capsules launched from the surface. Still, a pretty attractive concept and substantially increased surface cargo mass. But we got nitpicked over the TRL of a segmented phased array, the increased mass of the bimodal NTR reactor radiator in electric mode, and poor backup power options for the lander (which now could be remedied with thin film solar cells underlying the rectenna mesh). Though this concept could be done via laser as well now to with a solid state laser array on the NTR, and a tuned solar array, or even a simple Stirling engine with a black heat exchanger to receive the laser. A laser array also gives the option of splitting some of the output off to power rovers ranging away from the base lander.

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