The one thing still holding us back from interstellar travel is our slow spacecraft and researcher are working on solving this. With our present technology, it will take around five months to reach Mars. But NASA scientist Philip Lubin is working on a system where lasers propel spaceship with massive sails to the Red Planet in only a time period of three days.
Pretty much like Bill Nye's much-hyped solar sail, this 'photonic propulsion' system count on on the momentum of photons to move forward. But as an alternative of photons from the Sun's rays, Lubin's system would use a push by huge Earth-based lasers.
It sounds pretty much unbelievable, but in a recent video for NASA 360, Lubin clarifies that this technology is very much readily available, and that the system could simply be scaled up. So, how do photons work to propel something as big as a spaceship? Regardless of not having any mass, particles of light have both momentum and energy, and when they reflect off an object, that momentum is relocated into a little push. With a huge, reflective sail, it's probable to produce enough momentum to slowly accelerate a spacecraft.
At the moment, Lubin and his group haven't yet tested their system, but their calculations show that photonic propulsion could transport a 100-kg robotic craft to Mars in just three days.
Lubin and his group last year got a proof-of-concept funding from NASA to demonstrate that photonic propulsion could be used for space travel, so we should start seeing some real-life outcomes soon. Find out more in the NASA 360 video: