Earth-Mars trip in 45 days? Lasers might do the trick
Scientists believe that using current technology, a trip from Earth to Mars would take six to nine months. However, a team of researchers from McGill University, Canada, has now suggested a propulsion mechanism that might reduce travel time drastically. As per their study, a spacecraft in which lasers will be used to heat the hydrogen fuel will bring down transit times to 45 days.
Why does this story matter?
- NASA plans to send manned missions to Mars in the 2030s. And, if this technological breakthrough becomes a reality, the creation of infrastructure between Earth and Mars can be hastened.
- The problems of deep-space transits, such as prolonged exposure to cosmic radiation, will also become a non-issue.
- This laser-projection mechanism may also find application in defense from asteroids and communication systems.
How will the system work?
Describing the working mechanism, research head Emmanuel Duplay said that an intense laser stream will be projected on the spaceship to directly heat the propellant. This will permit the craft to accelerate rapidly while it is still near Earth. Its laser-powered engine will also be used to bring back used boosters back to our planet, and they shall be recycled for the next launch.
What are the requirements for a laser-thermal rocket?
Besides hydrogen propellant and focused lasers from Earth, a laser-thermal spacecraft will require several technologies. They include "arrays of fiber-optic lasers that act as a single optical element" and inflatable structures to focus the laser beam into the spacecraft's ignition chamber. Materials capable of withstanding high temperatures, which will let the craft to break against the Martian atmosphere, during entry will also be required.
What are the hurdles to such technology?
Duplay believes the laser heating chamber will be a huge challenge. He said, "Can we contain hydrogen gas, our propellant, as it is being heated by the laser beam to temperatures greater than 10,000 K while at the same time keeping walls of the chamber cool?" "Our models say this is feasible, but experimental testing at full scale is not possible at present."