We report on laboratory studies of the effectiveness of directed energy planetary defense as a part of the DESTAR (Directed Energy System for Targeting of Asteroids and exploRation) program. DE-STAR  and DE-STARLITE  are directed energy "stand-off" and "stand-on" programs, respectively. These systems consist of a modular array of kilowatt-class lasers powered by photovoltaics, and are capable of heating a spot on the surface of an asteroid to the point of vaporization. Mass ejection, as a plume of evaporated material, creates a reactionary thrust capable of diverting the asteroid’s orbit. In a series of papers, we have developed a theoretical basis and described numerical simulations for determining the thrust produced by material evaporating from the surface of an asteroid . In the DE-STAR concept, the asteroid itself is used as the deflection "propellant". This study presents results of experiments designed to measure the thrust created by evaporation from a laser directed energy spot. We constructed a vacuum chamber to simulate space conditions, and installed a torsion balance that holds an "asteroid" sample. The sample is illuminated with a fiber array laser with flux levels up to 60 MW/m2 which allows us to simulate a mission level flux but on a small scale. We use a separate laser as well as a position sensitive centroid detector to readout the angular motion of the torsion balance and can thus determine the thrust. We compare the measured thrust to the models. Our theoretical models indicate a coupling coefficient well in excess of 100 μN/Woptical, though we assume a more conservative value of 80 μN/Woptical and then degrade this with an optical "encircled energy" efficiency of 0.75 to 60 μN/Woptical in our deflection modeling. Our measurements discussed here yield about 45 μN/Wabsorbed as a reasonable lower limit to the thrust per optical watt absorbed.
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.
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).
Arrays of independently tunable MEMS Fabry-Perot filters have been developed that enable spectral tuning over the
range of 11 - 8 microns with a filter bandwidth of ~ 120 nm. Actuation is provided using a MEMS driver IC that is
hybridized to the MEMS chip. Combining the filter array with an IR FPA enables spatially-resolved spectral tuning in a
compact architecture. Tunable spectral response data from the first integrated tunable filter / FPA device are presented.