To probe the molecular composition of a remote target, a laser is directed at a spot on the target, where melting and evaporation occur. The heated spot serves as a high-temperature blackbody source, and the ejected substance creates a plume of surface materials in front of the spot. Bulk molecular composition of the surface material is investigated by using a spectrometer to view the heated spot through the ejected plume. The proposed method is distinct from current stand-off approaches to composition analysis, such as Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS), which atomizes and ionizes target material and observes emission spectra to determine bulk atomic composition. Initial simulations of absorption profiles based on theoretical models show great promise for the proposed method. This paper compares simulated spectral profiles with results of preliminary laboratory experiments. A sample is placed in an evacuated space, which is situated within the beam line of a Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectrometer. A laser beam is directed at the sample through an optical window in the front of the vacuum space. As the sample is heated, and evaporation begins, the FTIR beam passes through the molecular plume, via IR windows in the sidewalls of the evacuated space. Sample targets, such as basalt, are tested and compared to the theoretically predicted spectra.
Asteroids impact Earth daily. Some, like the Chelyabinsk Meteor that exploded over Siberia in 2013, can cause massive disruption to human enterprise (~$33M in damages) and thousands of injuries. To mitigate this potentially disastrous threat, our group has posited a phased laser array which would be used to direct energy towards approaching asteroids or other dangerous near Earth objects (NEOs). The laser array would ablate the NEO’s surface, inducing mass ejection, that would then cause a reactant thrust on the NEO in the opposite direction of the laser. To verify this concept in a laboratory environment, this work quantitatively measured the thrust induced on basalt and other asteroid regolith simulant by a 350W laser array. By placing the sample target on a torsion balance and measuring its angle of deflection under ablation, it is possible to calculate the induced thrust per unit watt. This angular change is measured with a secondary laser that reflects off of the torsion balance into an optical position sensor. By comparing this paper’s experimental results with prior theoretical and computational work, we can surmise a theoretical relationship between NEO size and required laser power for future NEO deflection missions.