So how many of you have any quick suggestions about how to provide space rocket with a boost when it is in flight? Russian scientists have devised a very unique approach to this question. The method suggested by these scientists is to make use of a laser that is based on ground and fire it while aiming for the backside of the space rocket. The idea is to use plasma flow that shall be caused by the laser ablation in order to enhance the efficiency of exhaust from the rocket propulsion system. Theoretically speaking, this can enable them to accelerate an aircraft beyond Mach 10.
Laser ablation can be defined as a process in which a powerful laser fires a laser beam that is focused onto the target located in space. The contact is burnt off thus creating a trail of plasma particles that are charged and subsequently create thrust. This process has been under review to be used as a means of blasting the space debris away from Earth orbit. What the research team did differently was focusing on how it can create thrust and this could lead to reduction in fuel storage that has to be carried on the ship. The ship, however, will have to carry the extra surface metal which will be utilized in the ablation procedure.
The team was led by Yuri Rezunkov at the Institute of Optoelectronic Instrument Engineering and managed to increase the thrust while enhancing the efficiency of conventional gas blasting rockets. The press release that was released says, “The researchers show that the effectiveness of current laser-propulsion techniques is limited by factors including the instability of supersonic gases as they flow through the gas nozzle, as well as the production of shock waves that “choke” the inlet of the nozzle, reducing thrust. But those effects can be reduced with the help of a laser-ablation plasma plume that is redirected so that it will flow close to the interior walls of the nozzle. Coupling the ablation jet with supersonic gas flow through the nozzle, they find, significantly improves the overall thrust generated by the nozzle. “Summarizing the data obtained, we can forecast the application of the supersonic laser propulsion techniques not only for launching small satellites to Earth orbits but also for additional acceleration of supersonic aircrafts to achieve Mach 10 and more.’
The only hurdle to this approach is the fact that the laser has to be really powerful. Practically, it has to be powerful enough to be able to annihilate metal from quite a distance (Earth to Space) and then it will be capable of destroying satellites or anything that is in the orbit. The military applications of this development would follow too (they always do) and it may very well end up as a weapon.