Laser Propulsion Science and Technology

A special issue of Aerospace (ISSN 2226-4310). This special issue belongs to the section "Astronautics & Space Science".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 May 2024) | Viewed by 13812

Special Issue Editor

Department of Physics & Astronomy, St. Cloud State University, 720 4th Ave S., St. Cloud, MN 56301, USA
Interests: advanced propulsion; directed energy; laser ablation; laser-materials interactions; laser propulsion
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Laser propulsion is an emerging field that promises breakthroughs for various unique propulsion needs if the special challenges of using lasers to produce impulses can be overcome. Some examples of such challenges include beam divergence, coupling to remote targets, heat accumulation, the physics of short-pulse laser-material interaction, and, broadly, the fundamental physics governing laser-material interactions, which is still incompletely understood.

Laser technology has advanced significantly in the past decade, with novel high-power lasers and the development of the science of massive laser arrays, which may support fielded laser propulsion missions and applications. Some examples of such applications include interplanetary propulsion, interstellar propulsion, laser thrusters, laser tractor beams, and laser removal of orbital debris.

This Special Issue of Aerospace will cover recent experimental, theoretical, and computational work on the use of lasers to produce thrust or impulse, focusing on the fundamental science of laser propulsion and related space technology applications.

The editor of this Special Issue invites papers describing chemical, engineering, physics, or other practical issues of laser propulsion science and technology.

Dr. John Sinko
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Aerospace is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • beamed energy propulsion
  • debris removal
  • directed energy propulsion
  • laser ablation
  • laser arrays
  • laser debris removal
  • laser-electric propulsion
  • laser launch
  • laser momentum coupling
  • laser orbital debris removal
  • laser propellant
  • laser propulsion
  • laser sails
  • laser thermal coupling
  • laser thermal propulsion
  • laser thrusters
  • lightsails
  • microwave propulsion

Related Special Issue

Published Papers (8 papers)

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Research

12 pages, 2026 KiB  
Article
Experimental Investigation of Impulsive Coupling Characteristics of Asteroid Simulants Based on Laser Ablation Propulsion
by Yingjie Ma, Hao Chang, Weijing Zhou and Zhilong Jian
Aerospace 2024, 11(5), 388; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace11050388 - 13 May 2024
Viewed by 888
Abstract
The ablation impulse of typical asteroid simulants irradiated by a nanosecond pulsed laser has been investigated in a vacuum environment. A torsional pendulum measurement system was constructed to calculate the impulse of laser ablation. A 10 ns pulsed laser was used, with a [...] Read more.
The ablation impulse of typical asteroid simulants irradiated by a nanosecond pulsed laser has been investigated in a vacuum environment. A torsional pendulum measurement system was constructed to calculate the impulse of laser ablation. A 10 ns pulsed laser was used, with a 1064 nm wavelength, a 900 mJ maximum pulse energy, and a millimeter-scale ablation spot diameter. Impulsive coupling characteristics of six typical targets that imitate the substance of asteroids with various laser fluences were analyzed. Furthermore, the impulse coupling coefficient curves of different materials were fitted. The results reveal that the minimum laser fluence corresponding to a measurable ablation impulse is approximately 2.5 J/cm2, and the optimum laser fluence corresponding to the maximum impulse coupling coefficient is approximately 14.0 J/cm2. The trends of the laser ablation impulse coupling curves are roughly consistent for the six materials. Impulse coupling characteristics of the six typical materials can be represented by the same polynomial within a 95% confidence interval, so a unified rule has been given. In actual deflection tasks of asteroids, the unified impulse coupling characteristic can be used to implement laser deflection techniques, especially when the material of the asteroid cannot be accurately judged in time. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Laser Propulsion Science and Technology)
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13 pages, 5328 KiB  
Communication
Observation of Oblique Laser-Supported Detonation Wave Propagating in Atmospheric Air
by Kohei Matsui, Kimiya Komurasaki, Keisuke Kanda and Hiroyuki Koizumi
Aerospace 2024, 11(4), 327; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace11040327 - 22 Apr 2024
Viewed by 881
Abstract
Elucidation of the propagation velocity of a laser-supported detonation (LSD) wave and its propagation mechanism is necessary for various engineering applications. This study was conducted to observe an oblique laser-supported detonation wave off the laser axis. The relation between the local laser intensity [...] Read more.
Elucidation of the propagation velocity of a laser-supported detonation (LSD) wave and its propagation mechanism is necessary for various engineering applications. This study was conducted to observe an oblique laser-supported detonation wave off the laser axis. The relation between the local laser intensity and detonation-wave propagation velocity was investigated. For this purpose, the time-space distribution of the laser intensity was measured precisely. The change of the LSD wavefront shape was visualized using an ultrahigh-speed camera. The relation between the local laser intensity and the propagation velocity of the oblique LSD wave measured off the laser axis was found to be identical to the relation between the local laser intensity and the detonation propagation velocity at the laser axis. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Laser Propulsion Science and Technology)
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13 pages, 5988 KiB  
Article
Development of a Laser Micro-Thruster and On-Orbit Testing
by Jifei Ye, Sibo Wang, Hao Chang, Yanji Hong, Nanlei Li, Weijing Zhou, Baoyu Xing, Bangdeng Du and Chengyin Xie
Aerospace 2024, 11(1), 23; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace11010023 - 26 Dec 2023
Viewed by 1278
Abstract
Laser micro-thrust technology is a type of propulsion that uses a laser beam to ablate a propellant such as a metal or plastic. The ablated material is expelled out the back of the spacecraft, generating thrust. The technology has the advantages of high [...] Read more.
Laser micro-thrust technology is a type of propulsion that uses a laser beam to ablate a propellant such as a metal or plastic. The ablated material is expelled out the back of the spacecraft, generating thrust. The technology has the advantages of high control precision, high thrust–power ratios, and excellent performances, and it has played an important role in the field of micro-propulsion. In this study, a solid propellant laser micro-thruster was developed and then applied for the attitude control of satellites during on-orbit tests. The micro-thruster had a volume of 0.5 U, a weight of 440 g, and a thrust range of 10 μN–0.6 mN. The propellant, 87% glycidyl azide polymer (GAP) + 10% ammonium perchlorate (AP) + 3% carbon nano-powder, was supplied via a double-layer belt, and the average power was less than 10 W. We present the development of the laser micro-thruster, as well as the results regarding the thruster propulsion performance. The thruster was launched into orbit on 27 February 2022 with the Chuangxin Leishen Satellite developed by Spacety. The on-orbit test of the thruster for satellite attitude control was carried out. The thruster was successfully fired in space and played an obvious role in the attitude control of the satellite. The experimental results show that the thrust is about 315 μN. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Laser Propulsion Science and Technology)
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25 pages, 5656 KiB  
Article
Modification of Space Debris Trajectories through Lasers: Dependence of Thermal and Impulse Coupling on Material and Surface Properties
by Denise Keil, Stefan Scharring, Erik Klein, Raoul-Amadeus Lorbeer, Dennis Schumacher, Frederic Seiz, Kush Kumar Sharma, Michael Zwilich, Lukas Schnörer, Markus Roth, Mohamed Khalil Ben-Larbi, Carsten Wiedemann, Wolfgang Riede and Thomas Dekorsy
Aerospace 2023, 10(11), 947; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace10110947 - 7 Nov 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1700
Abstract
Environmental pollution exists not only within our atmosphere but also in space. Space debris is a critical problem of modern and future space infrastructure. Congested orbits raise the question of spacecraft disposal. Therefore, state-of-the-art satellites come with a deorbit system in cases of [...] Read more.
Environmental pollution exists not only within our atmosphere but also in space. Space debris is a critical problem of modern and future space infrastructure. Congested orbits raise the question of spacecraft disposal. Therefore, state-of-the-art satellites come with a deorbit system in cases of low Earth orbit (LEO) and with thrusters for transferring into the graveyard orbit for geostationary and geosynchronous orbits. No practical solution is available for debris objects that stem from fragmentation events. The present study focuses on objects in LEO orbits with dimensions in the dangerous class of 1 to 10 cm. Our assumed method for the change of trajectories of space debris is laser ablation for collision avoidance or complete removal by ground-based laser systems. Thus, we executed an experimental feasibility study with focus on thermal and impulse coupling between laser and sample. Free-fall experiments with a 10 ns laser pulse at nominally 60 J and 1064 nm were conducted with GSI Darmstadt’s nhelix laser on various sample materials with different surfaces. Ablated mass, heating, and trajectory were recorded. Furthermore, we investigated the influence of the sample surface roughness on the laser-object interaction. We measured impulse coupling coefficients between 7 and 40 µNs/J and thermal coupling coefficients between 2% and 12.5% both depending on target fluence, surface roughness, and material. Ablated mass and changes in surface roughness were considered via simulation to discriminate their relevance for a multiple shot concept. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Laser Propulsion Science and Technology)
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13 pages, 5889 KiB  
Article
Experimental Investigation on Morphological Characteristics and Propulsion Performance of Typical Metals Ablated with Multipulse Nanosecond Laser
by Hao Liu, Jifei Ye, Mingyu Li and Heyan Gao
Aerospace 2023, 10(8), 690; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace10080690 - 3 Aug 2023
Viewed by 1079
Abstract
For laser ablation micropropulsion technology with metal as the target to increase the total impulse, the effective utilization and supply of a working medium is a crucial aspect. In this research, the ablation characteristics and propulsion performance of the typical metal targets, copper [...] Read more.
For laser ablation micropropulsion technology with metal as the target to increase the total impulse, the effective utilization and supply of a working medium is a crucial aspect. In this research, the ablation characteristics and propulsion performance of the typical metal targets, copper and aluminum, ablated via nanosecond laser ablation are analyzed. Due to the low melting point of aluminum, the protrusion characteristics in the remelted area are more prominent. Its surface morphology has characteristics for height extremum and roughness that are higher than those of copper. Affected by the anisotropy of the rough surface, the absorbed energy decreases with increasing roughness. The impulse coupling coefficient of the metal decreases and stabilizes at about 6 μN·W−1. The specific pulse of aluminum obtains a minimum value of 603.6 s at 6000 pulses and improves with increasing pulses. The propulsion parameters of copper alters slightly under various working conditions, with a maximum specific impulse of 685 s. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Laser Propulsion Science and Technology)
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20 pages, 5102 KiB  
Article
Can the Orbital Debris Disease Be Cured Using Lasers?
by Stefan Scharring and Jürgen Kästel
Aerospace 2023, 10(7), 633; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace10070633 - 13 Jul 2023
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 2250
Abstract
Ground-based high-power lasers are, in principle, able to de-orbit any kind of space debris object from the low Earth orbit (LEO) by remotely inducing laser-ablative momentum. However, the assessment of efficiency and operational safety depends on many factors, like atmospheric constraints or the [...] Read more.
Ground-based high-power lasers are, in principle, able to de-orbit any kind of space debris object from the low Earth orbit (LEO) by remotely inducing laser-ablative momentum. However, the assessment of efficiency and operational safety depends on many factors, like atmospheric constraints or the risk of debris disintegration during irradiation. We analyze laser momentum for a great variety of target geometries and sizes and—for the first time in a large-scale simulation—include thermal constraints in the laser irradiation configuration. Using a coherently coupled 100 kJ laser system at 1030 nm wavelength and a 5 ns pulse duration in an optimized pointing elevation angle range, the pulse frequency should amount to less than 10 Hz to prevent fragment meltdown. For mechanically intact payloads or rocket bodies, repetition rates should be even lower. Small debris fragments sized between 10 and 40 cm can be de-orbited by employing around 100 to 400 station passes with head-on irradiation, while objects exceeding 2 m typically require far more than 1000 irradiations for de-orbit. Hence, laser-based debris removal cannot be considered a prime space sustainability measure to tackle the highest-risk large debris, yet it can provide the remediation of a multitude of small-sized debris using small networks of globally distributed laser sites. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Laser Propulsion Science and Technology)
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10 pages, 3047 KiB  
Article
Experimental Research on Characteristics of Impulse Coupling and Plasma Plume Generated by Laser Irradiating Copper Target with Nanosecond Pulsed Laser Propulsion
by Chenghao Yu, Jifei Ye, Hao Chang, Weijing Zhou, Xiao Han, Mingyu Li and Heyan Gao
Aerospace 2023, 10(6), 544; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace10060544 - 7 Jun 2023
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 1374
Abstract
The ejection of the plasma plume produced by laser ablation is an important process for inducing mechanical effects. Therefore, in this paper, the characteristics of the plasma plume are investigated in order to analyze the impulse coupling mechanism with two laser spot diameters, [...] Read more.
The ejection of the plasma plume produced by laser ablation is an important process for inducing mechanical effects. Therefore, in this paper, the characteristics of the plasma plume are investigated in order to analyze the impulse coupling mechanism with two laser spot diameters, 300 μm and 1100 μm, respectively. The impulse generated by laser irradiating the copper target was measured by the torsion pendulum, and the plasma plume was investigated using fast photography and optical emission spectroscopy. The experimental results show that the optimal laser intensity is independent of the beam spot size. However, when the laser intensity is greater than 2.8 × 109 W/cm2, the impulse coupling coefficient with the small beam spot starts to gradually decrease, while that with the large beam spot tends to saturate. Additionally, the stream-like structure and the semi-ellipsoid structure of the plasma plume were observed, respectively. Furthermore, the electron number density was estimated using the Stark broadening method, and the effect of the plasma plume on the impulse coupling coefficient was discussed. The results provide a technical reference for several applications including orbital debris removal with lasers, laser thrusters, and laser despinning. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Laser Propulsion Science and Technology)
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14 pages, 5870 KiB  
Article
Hugoniot Relation for a Bow-Shaped Detonation Wave Generated in RP Laser Propulsion
by Kenya Sugamura, Kyohei Kato, Kimiya Komurasaki, Hokuto Sekine, Yuma Itakura and Hiroyuki Koizumi
Aerospace 2023, 10(2), 102; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace10020102 - 19 Jan 2023
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1578
Abstract
Repetitive-pulsed (RP) laser propulsion is expected to replace chemical propulsion systems because it can reduce launch costs. A laser-supported detonation wave (LSD) plays an important role in the thrust-generation process of RP laser propulsion. The LSD propagation mechanism has been studied. Nevertheless, the [...] Read more.
Repetitive-pulsed (RP) laser propulsion is expected to replace chemical propulsion systems because it can reduce launch costs. A laser-supported detonation wave (LSD) plays an important role in the thrust-generation process of RP laser propulsion. The LSD propagation mechanism has been studied. Nevertheless, the LSD propagation velocity measured in an earlier study was lower than the Chapman–Jouguet (CJ) velocity, which meant that Hugoniot analysis produced no solution. The findings suggest that the radial flow from the central axis of LSD exerts some effects, but it has not been evaluated quantitatively. Two-dimensional axisymmetric computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis using the measured propagation velocity was performed for this study to evaluate effects of the radial flow of a bow-shaped LSD. Results show that the ratios of the radial flow of mass, momentum, and enthalpy from the central axis can be calculated, respectively, as 0.82, 0.13, and 0.17. Additionally, the measured propagation velocity of a bow-shaped LSD was shown to be higher than the CJ velocity calculated using the two-dimensional axisymmetric CFD reproducing the experiment conditions. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Laser Propulsion Science and Technology)
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