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Reaching Mars in 30 Minutes With Laser Propulsion

Firing lasers at tiny spacecrafts could make us reach Mars in less than an hour, and even in 30 minutes only, according to scientist Philip Lubin from the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Experimental Cosmology Group.

Illustration showing how laser propulsion could work. Photo credits: NASA.

Illustration showing how laser propulsion could work. Photo credits: NASA.

Faster space travel is definitely one of the goals of researchers. How to do so, though? Philip Lubin says it can happen with directed energy propulsion, a technology that is said to be achievable. Using this method, a spacecraft can travel to Mars at a fraction of the speed light. This might even reduce the duration of the journey to half an hour only, as per an estimate.

Lubin came up with the concept when working on NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program last year. He describes it in a paper entitled “A Roadmap to Interstellar Flight” published in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society (JBIS).

Discussing the concept, he mentions the use of a wafer-thin spacecraft equipped with a one-meter-long laser sail called the DE-STAR (Directed Energy System for Targeting of Asteroids and ExplorRation). A laser in our orbit would be aimed at the sail to cause acceleration into space. It is also said that wafer-thin spacecrafts could be loaded with basic instruments to relay data to the Earth.

“As an example, on the eventual upper end, a full scale DE-STAR 4 (50-70 GW) will propel a wafer scale spacecraft with a one meter laser sail to about 26 percent the speed of light in about 10 minutes, reach Mars (1 AU [astronomical unit, roughly the Earth-Sun distance]) in 30 minutes, pass Voyager 1 in less than 3 days, pass 1,000 AU in 12 days and reach Alpha Centauri in about 15 years,” Lubin wrote.

Lubin adds that direct energy propulsion can be used for larger vehicles as well. He argued that the technology is “NOT science fiction”.

His idea has been explored again in a NASA video released 2 weeks ago.

Lubin says that a 100-kilogram robotic craft can be propelled this way to Mars in a few days. He also thinks the mode of travel can be extended to other destinations: exoplanets and potentially habitable ones within around 25 light-years of the Earth might be considered. He further mentions Alpha Centauri which is only 4 light-years away from us.

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