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Lightcraft Will Use Laser Power for Space Travel

The final frontier: Leik Myrabo's Lightcraft.
A "Lightcraft" designed in 1987 by Rensselaer students may one day revolutionize space travel, according to Leik Myrabo, associate professor of mechanical engineering.
  In a Nov. 20 lecture, Myrabo, who is on extended sabbatical at Edwards Air Force Base in California, described his progress in testing the concept.
  Since 1983, more than 1,000 Rensselaer students have worked on the Lightcraft project, Myrabo said. Now, he is funded by the Air Force and NASA to move the project toward reality. Lightcraft models built in a Rensselaer machine shop are being flight-tested at the White Sands Missile Range.
  A carbon-dioxide-pulsed laser beams power to a Lightcraft, greatly reducing the need to carry heavy fuel. A mirror concentrates the laser pulses, heating the air until it explodes, providing propulsion.
  Eliminating the need to carry heavy fuel cuts costs by several orders of magnitude. Instead of the $1 million it now costs to put a man in space, Myrabo is aiming for $10 a pound, the price of a first-class airplane ticket.
  Using pulses from a 10-kilowatt laser, Myrabo already has sent 25-gram aluminum models up 99 feet, higher than Robert Goddard's first two successful rocket flights. NASA is funding a laser upgrade to 100 kilowatts, which Myrabo believes will send the models 10 kilometers into space. The goal, he says, is to put a one-kilogram model into orbit within five years.
  This would make possible a new generation of low-cost microsatellites for high-resolution imaging and mapping, global positioning systems, astronomical telescopes, and communications and relay systems.
  Myrabo is also exploring the use of microwaves rather than laser beams to power future Lightcraft vehicles. The beams would come from orbiting microwave stations.
  Rensselaer students are now designing and testing components for more advanced Lightcraft vehicles that could be used for cheap manned space travel.


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