Solar-Pumped Beamed Propulsion: Interstellar Lightsail Mission Infrastructure

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M. J. van den Donker (2019), JBIS, 72, pp.275-281

Refcode: 2019.72.275
Keywords: Interstellar solar-pumped beamed propulsion lightsail

Abstract:
The aim of this article is to identify technology development actions that are needed for the design of an interstellar purely solar-pumped laser beam propelled sail mission using existing physics. Solar light is used to perform population inversion of a ceramic solar laser medium. The solar-pumped laser accelerates a reflecting probe. Multiples of these lasers can be placed in succession (or multiple passes of the laser can be used) to accelerate long enough for the probe to reach a fraction of the light speed. The main difference to existing approaches like described in [7] is that the laser power is generated by multiple stations along the trajectory near the star itself, power is generated continually by direct laser pumping action and thus does not require its own power source and multilayer mirrors can be used to boost the efficiency of the probe. The approach is to perform a very rough identification of pre-design requirements of a small solar-pumped beam-propelled 0.01 kg probe that obtains a fraction of the light speed (for example 0.077 c) by accelerating it with a photon pressure of 27 g during 1 day, so that it can reach Proxima Centauri (4 ly) in about 50 years, and look at which technology gaps and material limits can be identified that could be investigated to improve probe performance predictions. As we will see, this technology could scale up and be used to allow regular interstellar travel of light probes within a human lifetime. And in principle the infrastructure could be built around other solar systems as well to form an interstellar network of relay stations and aid robotic exploration in the galaxy.

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