Nuclear Powered Laser Driven Plasma Propulsion System

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T. Kammash (2005), JBIS, 58, 407-411

Refcode: 2005.58.407
Keywords: Ultrafast, femtosecond, LAPPS, relativistic plasma, Oort Cloud, Mars, petawatt, interstellar fly-by

A relativistic plasma thruster that could open up the solar system to near-term human exploration is presented. It is based on recent experimental and theoretical research, which show that ultrafast (very short pulse length) lasers can accelerate charged particles to relativistic speeds. In table top-type experiments charge-neutral proton beams containing more than 1014 particles with mean energies of tens of MeV's have been produced when high intensity lasers with femtosecond (10-15 s) pulse lengths are made to strike thin solid targets. When viewed from a propulsion standpoint such systems can produce specific impulses of several million seconds albeit at modest thrusts and require nuclear power systems to drive them. Several schemes are proposed to enhance the thrust and make these systems suitable for manned interplanetary missions. In this paper we set forth the physics principles that make relativistic plasma driven by ultrafast lasers particularly attractive for propulsion applications. We introduce the “Laser Accelerated Plasma Propulsion System” LAPPS, and demonstrate its potential propulsive capability by addressing an interstellar mission to the Oort Cloud, and a planetary mission to Mars. We show that the first can be carried out in a human's lifetime and the second in a matter of months. In both instances we identify the major technological problems that must be addressed if this system is to evolve into a leading contender among the advance propulsion concepts currently under consideration.

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