• UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Gauchos are live on @ESPN3 ! WATCH >>> https://t.co/io6ZzYs9Hg https://t.co/BEO8wTxv62
    4 hours 22 min ago
  • ucsantabarbara twitter avatar
    Congrats to Leah Foltz for winning the #UCSB Grad Slam! Now she moves onto the UC-wide competition in SF on May 4th! https://t.co/kVqCtOTWb7
    11 hours 15 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Former @UCSB_Baseball LHP Dom Mazza speaks with his hometown paper after throwing a perfecto this week! https://t.co/GPc3B3qL9g
    11 hours 35 min ago
  • ArtsandLectures twitter avatar
    Watch pianist #MurrayPerahia's breathtaking and imaginative performance, tonight at 7PM at UCSB Campbell Hall!… https://t.co/M83EeA6Y53
    14 hours 21 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Softball: Hawai'i Tops UCSB 5-1 in Gauchos' Final Road Series Opener https://t.co/ejf0MWM1g0
    21 hours 42 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Gauchos Sweep Past UCI 4-0 https://t.co/WFwbxDV8eA
    1 day 18 min ago
  • ucsantabarbara twitter avatar
    We're happy to see you back, alumni! Don't miss the great events we have this weekend. #AllGauchoReunion… https://t.co/Sbz4iirr7i
    1 day 3 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Women's Tennis: Cal Poly 0, UC Santa Barb. 4 (Final) No.2 UCSB blanks No.7 Cal Poly in Big West Quarterfinal 4-0 https://t.co/m4kdACQFo5
    1 day 3 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    .@UCSB_Baseball vs. UC Riverside on @ESPN3 is live now! Watch here >>> https://t.co/QJMvNLa0mQ
    1 day 4 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    WWP: Defending Big West Champs Defeated by No. 12 LBSU in Another Overtime Match https://t.co/XIO3RJdo9p
    1 day 4 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Top-Seeded UCSB Set to Host Big West Golf Championship at Sandpiper GC https://t.co/SyXPKB2Ur5
    1 day 6 hours ago
  • UCSBLibrary twitter avatar
    RT @ForestSways: CEMA poster preservation for primary source research. #Chicanohertiage @Marikhasmanyan @UCSBLibrary #sca17 https://t.co/M…
    1 day 8 hours ago
  • UCSBLibrary twitter avatar
    @AmldavisAnn We're glad you're interested in using, please contact (805) 893-3062 or @library.ucsb.edu">special@library.ucsb.edu for m… https://t.co/fwAVOMoWyB
    1 day 8 hours ago
  • UCSB_GradPost twitter avatar
    CPT F-1 Visa workshop for international students on May 11 https://t.co/l6xZEndRVl #UCSB #ucsbgradpost
    1 day 8 hours ago
  • UCSB_GradPost twitter avatar
    Two open postdoc positions on Verification of Quantum Cryptography https://t.co/ZRA2iro7Ym #UCSB #ucsbgradpost
    1 day 8 hours ago

Roadmap to the Stars

With a grant from NASA, physics professor Philip Lubin will investigate the possibility of using directed energy propulsion for interstellar travel
Tuesday, June 23, 2015 - 12:30
Santa Barbara, CA

Laser Sail Adrian Mann.jpg

Laser sail illustration

Artist's rendition of a laser-propelled interstellar mission.

Photo Credit: 

Illustration by Adrian Mann

Phil Lubin.jpg

Philip Lubin

Philip Lubin

Photo Credit: 

Sonia Fernandez

A laser-powered wafer-thin spacecraft capable of reaching Alpha Centauri in 20 years may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but it’s not. And while such a launch isn’t imminent, the possibility of one in the future does exist, according to UC Santa Barbara physics professor Philip Lubin.

To further explore that possibility, Lubin and his team in UCSB’s Experimental Cosmology Group will study photo-driven propulsion — the use of lasers as a means to power a spacecraft. The group has been awarded one of 15 proof-of-concept grants from NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts. The NASA program aims to turn what sounds like science fiction into science fact through the development of pioneering technologies.

“One of humanity’s grand challenges is to explore other solar systems by sending probes — and eventually life,” said Lubin. “We propose a system that will allow us to take the first step toward interstellar exploration using directed energy propulsion combined with miniature probes. Along with recent work on wafer-scale photonics, we can now envision combining these technologies to enable a realistic approach to sending probes far outside our solar system.”

The UCSB group’s ultimate goal is to send small probes to supplement the current long-range remote sensing done by orbital and ground-based telescopes. The funding will enable Lubin’s team to create a more complete roadmap for building a fully functional wafer-scale spacecraft complete with power, laser communications and controllable photon thrusters. The project, Directed Energy Propulsion for Interstellar exploratioN (DEEP-IN), will also chart laser driver elements that require technology development.

The key to a functioning system lies in the ability to build both the photon driver and the ultra-low-mass probes. While capable of propelling any spacecraft mass, lower-mass probes go the fastest and are most suitable for interstellar missions. 

The DEEP-IN design keeps the main propulsion driver back in Earth’s orbit (or nearby) yet still capable of propelling highly integrated spacecraft to speeds vastly higher than anything scientists can currently achieve. The laser photon driver would use photon pressure in the form of streamed energy to power the spacecraft as it travels away from Earth. With no intrinsic speed limit, this technology allows for the relativistic speeds necessary for interstellar flight.

The same systems can be used for many other purposes, according to Lubin, including travel inside our solar system — such as rapid transit to Mars with much larger probes — and planetary defense. As another example of this technology, at last spring’s Planetary Defense Conference in Italy, UCSB participated in an exercise to counter a simulated asteroid impact threat to Earth. The group’s solution: deflecting the threat’s path using DE-STAR technology, originally conceived by Lubin and Gary Hughes, an assistant professor at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

DE-STAR — or Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids and exploRation — is the core directed energy technology proposed both for relativistic spacecraft and as a means of mitigating potential threats to the Earth, such as those posed by asteroids and comets. This technology is completely modular and scalable over an enormous range so it could be used today for small, dedicated planetary defense missions and in the future scaled up to power photon-driven spacecraft of varying sizes and mission capabilities such as the DEEP-IN program.

“While not suitable for every spacecraft design, this approach opens up radically new possibilities,” Lubin said. “The project is a step toward the first interstellar mission, but more importantly we are studying and designing the relevant technological base. This will give us the ability to build a single photon driver capable of sending out literally millions of low-mass probes.

“We’ve had to radically rethink our strategy in order not to give up our dreams of reaching the stars,” Lubin added. “DEEP-IN posits a technological path forward that, while not simple, is within our technological reach to begin.”

Contact Info: 

Julie Cohen
(805) 893-7220
julie.cohen@ucsb.edu

Topics: