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Laser Beaming and Infrastructure

6 Apr 2018, 17:15 UTC
Laser Beaming and Infrastructure
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Looking at John Brophy’s Phase II NIAC award reminds us how useful the two-step process can be at clarifying and re-configuring deep space concepts. Brophy (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) had gone to work in Phase I with a study called “A Breakthrough Propulsion Architecture for Interstellar Precursor Missions.” The work studied a lithium-fueled ion thruster with a specific impulse of 58,000 seconds. If that didn’t get your attention, consider that the Dawn spacecraft’s ISP is 3,000 seconds, and think about what we might be able to do with that higher figure.
I think about ideas like this in terms of infrastructure. The relation to interstellar flight is this: While we may well get robotic nano-probes off on interstellar missions (think Breakthrough Starshot) some time this century, the idea of human expansion into the cosmos awaits the growth of our civilization into the rest of the Solar System. Along the way, we will learn the huge lessons of closed-loop life support, means of planetary protection and propulsion technologies to shorten trip times. Building that infrastructure is an early phase of the interstellar project.

What Brophy has been working on with his Phase I study is the question of how to provide power ...

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