Starts With A Bang

Sorry, but lasers aren’t taking you to Mars anytime soon (Synopsis)

Image credit: the DEEP-laser sail concept, via http://www.deepspace.ucsb.edu/projects/directed-energy-interstellar-precursors, Copyright © 2016 UCSB Experimental Cosmology Group.

“Greatness is not in were we stand, but in what direction we are moving. We must sail sometimes with the wind, and sometimes against it – but sail we must. And not drift, nor lie at anchor.” –Oliver Wendell Holmes

It’s long been a dream of humanity to travel interplanetary distances at great speeds, or to make it to another star system within a human lifetime. Until recently, technologies to get us there — antimatter propulsion, wormholes or warp drive — have all been composed of physically unrealistic solutions. But recent developments in laser technology make directed energy propulsion a feasible solution.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Andrzej Mirecki, under a c.c.a.-s.a.-3.0 license, of the related solar sail concept IKAROS mission.

By building a giant laser array in space and developing a new type of solar sail that reflects the laser light with incredible efficiency, a laser sail, this propulsion system is scalable to arbitrarily large powers. There are many technical obstacles to be overcome, and so it’s unlikely we’ll see the fruit of this anytime in the next few decades (despite the promises of some), but this may well be the technology that takes us to the stars in the coming centuries.

Artistic rendition of a laser-driven sail. Image credit: Adrian Mann, via http://www.deepspace.ucsb.edu/projects/directed-energy-interstellar-precursors.

Go read the whole story over on Forbes, but don’t get your hopes up too high, too fast!