Photonic Propulsion will make it possible to travel to Mars in three days instead of six months, using a new laser technology which harnesses the power of light.[i] According to the experts, Photonic Propulsion is a technique that uses light from lasers to produce ‘thrust to drive spacecraft’ and will, therefore, make it possible to get to other planets at much faster speeds. The team working on the project has received a proof of concept grant from NASA to demonstrate that photonic propulsion could function, and is already dreaming of sending these probes to the deep ends of the solar system in the near future.
At the moment, the technology is targeted at microscopic probes, but soon NASA hopes it will inspire the creation of larger spacecraft that will travel to Mars. The technology would not be used immediately for Mars missions. Instead, it could work on a wafer-thin spacecraft that would be equipped with integrated optical communications, optical systems and sensors combined with directed energy propulsion.
Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP)
NASA has appointed a private company to design and develop an Advanced Electric Propulsion System that will significantly advance commercial space capabilities and enable deep space exploration missions.[ii] It is the next step in their Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) project, which is developing critical technologies to extend the range and capabilities of ambitious new science and exploration missions. Work performed under the contract could potentially increase spaceflight transportation fuel efficiency by 10 times over current chemical propulsion technology and more than double thrust capability compared to current electric propulsion systems. The development and delivery of an integrated electric propulsion system will consist of a thruster, power processing unit (PPU), low-pressure xenon flow controller, and electrical harness. NASA has developed and tested a prototype thruster and PPU that the company can use as a reference design.
This work will directly complement recent advanced solar array systems work. NASA anticipates the electrical power to operate this advanced electric propulsion flight system in space will be generated by solar arrays. NASA has been refining development of spaceflight electric propulsion technology for more than five decades, the first successful ion electric propulsion thruster being developed in the 1950s. Since then, they have increasingly relied on solar electric propulsion for long-duration, deep-space robotic science and exploration missions to multiple destinations, the most recent being the Dawn mission.
Credit for featured image at top of page: Photonic Propulsion NASA: http://cdn2.alphr.com/sites/alphr/files/styles/insert_main_wide_image/public/2016/02/photonic_propulsion_nasa.jpg?itok=w9fThv09
[i] The Spreadit: http://www.thespreadit.com/nasa-photonic-propulsion-mars-travel-70039/
[ii] NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-works-to-improve-solar-electric-propulsion-for-deep-space-exploration