Molecular composition of distant stars is explored by observing absorption spectra. The star produces blackbody radiation that passes through the molecular cloud of vaporized material surrounding the star. Characteristic absorption lines are discernible with a spectrometer, and molecular composition is investigated by comparing spectral observations with known material profiles. Most objects in the solar system—asteroids, comets, planets, moons—are too cold to be interrogated in this manner. Molecular clouds around cold objects consist primarily of volatiles, so bulk composition cannot be probed. Additionally, low volatile density does not produce discernible absorption lines in the faint signal generated by low blackbody temperatures. This paper describes a system for probing the molecular composition of cold solar system targets from a distant vantage. The concept utilizes a directed energy beam to melt and vaporize a spot on a distant target, such as from a spacecraft orbiting the object. With sufficient flux (~10 MW/m2), the spot temperature rises rapidly (to ~2 500 K), and evaporation of all materials on the target surface occurs. The melted spot creates a high-temperature blackbody source, and ejected material creates a molecular plume in front of the spot. Bulk composition is investigated by using a spectrometer to view the heated spot through the ejected material. Spatial composition maps could be created by scanning the surface. Applying the beam to a single spot continuously produces a borehole, and shallow sub-surface composition profiling is also possible. Initial simulations of absorption profiles with laser heating show great promise for molecular composition analysis.
Arrays of phase-locked lasers have been developed for numerous directed-energy applications. Phased-array designs are capable of producing higher beam intensity than similar sized multi-beam emitters, and also allow beam steering and beam profile manipulation. In phased-array designs, individual emitter phases must be controllable, based on suitable feedback. Most current control schemes sample individual emitter phases, such as with an array-wide beam splitter, and compare to a master phase reference. Reliance on a global beam splitter limits scalability to larger array sizes due to lack of design modularity. This paper describes a conceptual design and control scheme that relies only on feedback from the array structure itself. A modular and scalable geometry is based on individual hexagonal frames for each emitter; each frame cell consists of a conventional lens mounted in front of the fiber tip. A rigid phase tap structure physically connects two adjacent emitter frame cells. A target sensor is mounted on top of the phase tap, representing the local alignment datum. Optical sensors measure the relative position of the phase tap and target sensor. The tap senses the exit phase of both emitters relative to the target normal plane, providing information to the phase controller for each emitter. As elements are added to the array, relative local position data between adjacent phase taps allows accurate prediction of the relative global position of emitters across the array, providing additional constraints to the phase controllers. The approach is scalable for target distance and number of emitters without loss of control.
This paper presents the motivation behind and design of a directed energy planetary defense system that utilizes laser ablation of an asteroid to impart a deflecting force on the target. The proposed system is called DE-STARLITE for Directed Energy System for Targeting of Asteroids and ExploRation – LITE as it is a small, stand-on unit of a larger standoff DE-STAR system. Pursuant to the stand-on design, ion engines will propel the spacecraft from low-Earth orbit (LEO) to the near-Earth asteroid (NEA). During laser ablation, the asteroid itself becomes the "propellant"; thus a very modest spacecraft can deflect an asteroid much larger than would be possible with a system of similar mission mass using ion beam deflection (IBD) or a gravity tractor. DE-STARLITE is capable of deflecting an Apophis-class (325 m diameter) asteroid with a 15-year targeting time. The mission fits within the rough mission parameters of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) program in terms of mass and size and has much greater capability for planetary defense than current proposals and is readily scalable to the threat. It can deflect all known threats with sufficient warning.
We present results of optical simulations for a laser phased array directed energy system. The laser array consists of individual optical elements in a square or hexagonal array. In a multi-element array, the far-field beam pattern depends on both mechanical pointing stability and on phase relationships between individual elements. The simulation incorporates realistic pointing and phase errors. Pointing error components include systematic offsets to simulate manufacturing and assembly variations. Pointing also includes time-varying errors that simulate structural vibrations, informed from random vibration analysis of the mechanical design. Phase errors include systematic offsets, and time-varying errors due to both mechanical vibration and temperature variation in the fibers. The optical simulation is used to determine beam pattern and pointing jitter over a range of composite error inputs. Results are also presented for a 1 m aperture array with 10 kW total power, designed as a stand-off system on a dedicated asteroid diversion/capture mission that seeks to evaporate the surface of the target at a distance of beyond 10 km. Phase stability across the array of λ/10 is shown to provide beam control that is sufficient to vaporize the surface of a target at 10 km. The model is also a useful tool for characterizing performance for phase controller design in relation to beam formation and pointing.
On 15 February 2013, a previously unknown ~20 m asteroid struck Earth near Chelyabinsk, Russia, releasing kinetic energy equivalent to ~570 kt TNT. Detecting objects like the Chelyabinsk impactor that are orbiting near Earth is a difficult task, in part because such objects spend much of their own orbits in the direction of the Sun when viewed from Earth. Efforts aimed at protecting Earth from future impacts will rely heavily on continued discovery. Ground-based optical observatory networks and Earth-orbiting spacecraft with infrared sensors have dramatically increased the pace of discovery. Still, less than 5% of near-Earth objects (NEOs) ≥100 m/~100 Mt TNT have been identified, and the proportion of known objects decreases rapidly for smaller sizes. Low emissivity of some objects also makes detection by passive sensors difficult. A proposed orbiting laser phased array directed energy system could be used for active illumination of NEOs, enhancing discovery particularly for smaller and lower emissivity objects. Laser fiber amplifiers emit very narrow-band energy, simplifying detection. Results of simulated illumination scenarios are presented based on an orbiting emitter array with specified characteristics. Simulations indicate that return signals from small and low emissivity objects is strong enough to detect. The possibility for both directed and full sky blind surveys is discussed, and the resulting diameter and mass limits for objects in different observational scenarios. The ability to determine both position and speed of detected objects is also discussed.
Asteroids that threaten Earth could be deflected from their orbits using laser directed energy or concentrated solar energy to vaporize the surface; the ejected plume would create a reaction thrust that pushes the object away from its collision course with Earth. One concern regarding directed energy deflection approaches is that asteroids rotate as they orbit the Sun. Asteroid rotation reduces the average thrust and changes the thrust vector imparting a time profile to the thrust. A directed energy system must deliver sufficient flux to evaporate surface material even when the asteroid is rotating. Required flux levels depend on surface material composition and albedo, thermal and bulk mechanical properties of the asteroid, and asteroid rotation rate. In the present work we present results of simulations for directed energy ejecta-plume asteroid threat mitigation. We use the observed distribution of asteroid rotational rates, along with a range of material and mechanical properties, as input to a thermal-physical model of plume generation. We calculate the expected thrust profile for rotating objects. Standoff directed energy schemes that deliver at least 10 MW/m2 generate significant thrust for all but the highest conceivable rotation rates.
Asteroids and comets that cross Earth’s orbit pose a credible risk of impact, with potentially severe disturbances to Earth and society. We propose an orbital planetary defense system capable of heating the surface of potentially hazardous objects to the vaporization point as a feasible approach to impact risk mitigation. We call the system DE-STAR, for Directed Energy System for Targeting of Asteroids and exploRation. The DE-STAR is a modular-phased array of kilowatt class lasers powered by photovoltaic’s. Modular design allows for incremental development, minimizing risk, and allowing for technological codevelopment. An orbiting structure would be developed in stages. The main objective of the DE-STAR is to use focused directed energy to raise the surface spot temperature to ∼3000 K, sufficient to vaporize all known substances. Ejection of evaporated material creates a large reaction force that would alter an asteroid’s orbit. The baseline system is a DE-STAR 3 or 4 (1- to 10-km array) depending on the degree of protection desired. A DE-STAR 4 allows initial engagement beyond 1 AU with a spot temperature sufficient to completely evaporate up to 500-m diameter asteroids in 1 year. Small objects can be diverted with a DE-STAR 2 (100 m) while space debris is vaporized with a DE-STAR 1 (10 m).
Current strategies for diverting threatening asteroids require dedicated operations for every individual object. We propose a stand-off, Earth-orbiting system capable of vaporizing the surface of asteroids as a futuristic but feasible approach to impact risk mitigation. We call the system DE-STAR (Directed Energy System for Targeting of Asteroids and exploRation). DE-STAR is a modular phased array of laser amplifiers, powered by solar photovoltaic panels. Lowcost development of test systems is possible with existing technology. Larger arrays could be tested in sub-orbital demonstrations, leading eventually to an orbiting system. Design requirements are established by seeking to vaporize the surface of an asteroid, with ejected material creating a reaction force to alter the asteroid’s orbit. A proposed system goal would be to raise the surface spot temperature to <3,000K, evaporating all known substances. Engagement distance required for successful diversion depends on the asteroid’s mass, composition and approach velocity. Distance to focus and desired surface spot temperature then determine laser array size. Volatile-laden objects (such as comets) ~100m wide and approaching at 5km/s could be diverted by initiating engagement at ~0.05AU, requiring a laser array of ~100m side length. Phased array configuration allows multiple beams, so a single DE-STAR of sufficient size would be capable of targeting several threats simultaneously. An orbiting DE-STAR could serve diverse scientific objectives, such as propulsion of kinetic asteroid interceptors or other interplanetary spacecraft. Vaporization of debris in Earth orbit could be accomplished with a ~10m array. Beyond the primary task of Earth defense, numerous functions are envisioned.
Asteroids and comets that cross Earth’s orbit pose a credible risk of impact, with potentially severe disturbances to Earth and society. Numerous risk mitigation strategies have been described, most involving dedicated missions to a threatening object. We propose an orbital planetary defense system capable of heating the surface of potentially hazardous objects to the vaporization point as a feasible approach to impact risk mitigation. We call the system DE-STAR for Directed Energy System for Targeting of Asteroids and exploRation. DE-STAR is a modular phased array of kilowatt class lasers powered by photovoltaic's. Modular design allows for incremental development, test, and initial deployment, lowering cost, minimizing risk, and allowing for technological co-development, leading eventually to an orbiting structure that would be developed in stages with both technological and target milestones. The main objective of DE-STAR is to use the focused directed energy to raise the surface spot temperature to ~3,000K, allowing direct vaporization of all known substances. In the process of heating the surface ejecting evaporated material a large reaction force would alter the asteroid’s orbit. The baseline system is a DE-STAR 3 or 4 (1-10km array) depending on the degree of protection desired. A DE-STAR 4 allows for asteroid engagement starting beyond 1AU with a spot temperature sufficient to completely evaporate up to 500-m diameter asteroids in one year. Small asteroids and comets can be diverted/evaporated with a DESTAR 2 (100m) while space debris is vaporized with a DE-STAR 1 (10m).