According to Philip Lubin, a professor of physics and NASA collaborator, a shorter trip to Mars is possible. All NASA has to do is build a propulsion system that is based on laser technology.
With present-day technology, a trip to the Red Planet would last approximately 260 days, which means nine months of space travel aboard a fuel-powered spacecraft.
The first time Lubin expressed his idea was during an Advanced Innovative Concepts NASA symposium. The Santa Barbara professor thinks that a shorter trip to Mars is possible if the Space Agency modifies its propulsion system.
Lubin believes that a laser technology-based propulsion system would make the spacecraft fast enough to deliver the astronaut crew to the Red Planet in only half an hour.
No, the propulsion system wouldn’t actually be installed on the spacecraft, meaning that it the craft itself would not emit laser beams. Lubin’s idea is that the Mars spacecraft be equipped with a sort of laser sail.
The actual laser that will power up the trip will remain in Earth’s orbit. The gigantic instrument that will have to emit tens of gigawatts in order to power up such a mission will emit a single, concentrated ray that will be aimed at the laser sail.
According to Lubin’s calculations, this way the spacecraft would achieve a frictionless acceleration that will allow it to reach a certain percentage of light speed.
In the paper that he published in the British Journal of Interplanetary Society, the professor says that the technology he is proposing can be built with materials and techniques that we have available in the present moment.
There are still certain “plot holes” in Lubin’s theory. And since the Mars mission will not be directed by neither Ridley Scott nor Christopher Nolan, a solution to the problems must be devised before the theory is considered as viable.
The most pressing issue of Lubin’s laser propulsion theory is the part in which the spacecraft actually reaches Mars and needs to slow down.
While the scientist considered harnessing the power of stellar winds or the pressure of a star’s photon, he admitted that he did not find a viable solution for the spacecraft’s deceleration problem.
Another important issue that must be considered is debris. Even the tiniest piece of debris could produce massive damage to the spacecraft. Chances of that happening are slim, but the Space Agency is not taking any risks.
Lubin wrote in his paper that dust accumulation will not reach mounts high enough to produce significant damage. But that only covers dust, there are larger pieces of debris up there and a magnetic or ablation shield might do the trick, but they would interfere with his original design.
Time dilation would also be a significant problem with a craft traveling with almost a quarter of light speed. But the Santa Barbara professor says this problem will be further addressed after unmanned missions are carried out.
A shorter trip to Mars is possible and the technology proposed by Lubin is feasible. All NASA has to do now is decide between the EmDrive and laser propulsion.
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