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  1. Applying New Laser Interaction Models to the ORION Problem

    Previously, Phipps, et al. developed a model that permitted laser ablation impulse predictions within a factor of two over an extremely broad range of pulse durations and wavelengths in the plasma regime. This model lacked the ability to predict the intensity for optimum impulse generation. For the lower-intensity vapor regime, below the plasma transition, Sinko developed a useful, fluence-dependent model which predicts impulse delivered for pulsed lasers on polymers at a specific wavelength. Phipps subsequently developed an alternate model which treats elemental solids in the vapor regime, that only requires knowledge of basic material parameters and vapor pressure vs. temperaturemore » data. These data, except for optical absorptivity, are wavelength-independent. A simple technique combines either vapor model with the plasma model to form a complete model that moves smoothly through the vapor to plasma transition. In this paper, we apply these models to show the optimum momentum coupling fluence on target, at the transition from the vapor to the plasma regimes, for aluminum (a typical debris material) and polyoxymethylene (representing polymeric debris). The application of this work is the ORION laser space debris mitigation concept. This is an improvement over previous work, in which this optimum was only estimated from the plasma ignition threshold. We present calculations showing how impulse delivered to debris targets in the ORION concept varies with pulse duration, at an optimum fluence determined by nonlinear optical effects in the Earth's atmosphere.« less
  2. Modeling CO{sub 2} Laser Ablative Impulse with Polymers

    Laser ablation vaporization models have usually ignored the spatial dependence of the laser beam. Here, we consider effects from modeling using a Gaussian beam for both photochemical and photothermal conditions. The modeling results are compared to experimental and literature data for CO{sub 2} laser ablation of the polymer polyoxymethylene under vacuum, and discussed in terms of the ablated mass areal density and momentum coupling coefficient. Extending the scope of discussion, laser ablative impulse generation research has lacked a cohesive strategy for linking the vaporization and plasma regimes. Existing models, mostly formulated for ultraviolet laser systems or metal targets, appear tomore » be inappropriate or impractical for applications requiring CO{sub 2} laser ablation of polymers. A recently proposed method for linking the vaporization and plasma regimes for analytical modeling is addressed here along with the implications of its use. Key control parameters are considered, along with the major propulsion parameters needed for laser ablation propulsion modeling.« less
  3. A Review of Laser Ablation Propulsion

    Laser Ablation Propulsion is a broad field with a wide range of applications. We review the 30-year history of laser ablation propulsion from the transition from earlier pure photon propulsion concepts of Oberth and Saenger through Kantrowitz's original laser ablation propulsion idea to the development of air-breathing 'Lightcraft' and advanced spacecraft propulsion engines. The polymers POM and GAP have played an important role in experiments and liquid ablation fuels show great promise. Some applications use a laser system which is distant from the propelled object, for example, on another spacecraft, the Earth or a planet. Others use a laser thatmore » is part of the spacecraft propulsion system on the spacecraft. Propulsion is produced when an intense laser beam strikes a condensed matter surface and produces a vapor or plasma jet. The advantages of this idea are that exhaust velocity of the propulsion engine covers a broader range than is available from chemistry, that it can be varied to meet the instantaneous demands of the particular mission, and that practical realizations give lower mass and greater simplicity for a payload delivery system. We review the underlying theory, buttressed by extensive experimental data. The primary problem in laser space propulsion theory has been the absence of a way to predict thrust and specific impulse over the transition from the vapor to the plasma regimes. We briefly discuss a method for combining two new vapor regime treatments with plasma regime theory, giving a smooth transition from one regime to the other. We conclude with a section on future directions.« less
  4. Modeling CO{sub 2} laser ablation impulse of polymers in vapor and plasma regimes

    An improved model for CO{sub 2} laser ablation impulse in polyoxymethylene and similar polymers is presented that describes the transition effects from the onset of vaporization to the plasma regime in a continuous fashion. Several predictions are made for ablation behavior.
  5. Liquid-fueled, Laser-powered, N-class thrust Space Engine with Variable Specific Impulse

    We discuss the requirements for developing a lightweight laser-powered space engine with specific impulse range 200<I{sub sp}<3,600 seconds and 6N maximum thrust. Operating parameters which can achieve this have been demonstrated separately in the laboratory. We review earlier solid fuel data. Such an engine can put small satellites through demanding maneuvers in short times, while generating the optimum specific impulse for each mission segment.We will address specific problems which have been solved. The first of these is fuel delivery to the laser focus. A pulsed laser format is required for reasons we will discuss. Solid-fuel configurations (such as the fuelmore » tapes used in the Photonic Associates {mu}LPT microthruster) are not amenable to the range of mass delivery rates ({mu}g/s to mg/s) necessary for such an engine. Liquid fuels are suggested. However, liquids with ordinary viscosities splash under pulsed laser illumination, ruining engine performance by causing the majority of fuel mass to be ejected at low I{sub sp}. We have shown that I{sub sp} = 680 seconds can be achieved by a viscous fuel based on glycidyl azide polymer and an IR-dye laser absorber. The second problem is optics clouding from ablated material. This can be handled actively by a flowing gas system. The final problem is mass: we will present an engine design which fits within a 10-kg 'dry mass' budget.The engine, 80 kg mass with fuel, is designed to fit within a 180-kg spacecraft, and use up 3 kW of prime power to deliver a {delta}v of 17.5 km/s to the spacecraft in sixteen months.« less
  6. Critical Fluences And Modeling Of CO{sub 2} Laser Ablation Of Polyoxymethylene From Vaporization To The Plasma Regime

    A CO{sub 2} laser was operated at pulse energies up to 10 J to ablate polyoxymethylene targets in air and vacuum conditions. Critical effects predicted by ablation models are discussed in relation to the experimental data, including specifically the threshold fluences for vaporization and critical plasma formation, and the fluence at which the optimal momentum coupling coefficient is found. Finally, we discuss a new approach for modeling polymers at long wavelengths, including a connection formula that links the vaporization and plasma regimes for laser ablation propulsion.
  7. Performance Test Results for the Laser-Powered Microthruster

    Microthrusters are useful for orienting and repositioning small craft above the atmosphere. We report technical results obtained during a successful 5-year program to develop a commercially-viable laser-powered microthruster. Its main advantage is the ability to generate a broad thrust range under programmable electronic control with minimal electrical power. The device applies millisecond-duration diode-laser pulses to a fuel tape to produce an ablation jet. By employing laser-initiated energetic polymers in our ablation fuel tapes, we obtained momentum coupling coefficients as large as 3mN/W of incident laser power, giving a continuous thrust range from 50{mu}N to 10mN. With our standard 30m xmore » 8mm fuel tape, fueled thruster mass is 0.5kg and 50N-s lifetime impulse is achieved. With an order-of-magnitude greater fuel mass, the thruster could accomplish re-entry or substantial orbit-raising of a 10-kg microsatellite. In its usual configuration, specific impulse is 200 seconds, and ablation efficiency, the ratio of exhaust kinetic energy to incident laser optical energy is 180%. We compare performance of several laser-initiated micropropellants which we studied, including polyvinyl nitrate (PVN), glycidyl azide polymer (GAP), and nitrocellulose (NC). All were doped with a laser-absorbing component, either carbon nanopearls with 10nm mean diameter or dyes tuned to the 920-nm laser wavelength but transparent at visible wavelengths. Our demonstrated momentum coupling coefficient is sufficient to levitate a 0.15-kg object with a 500-W laser beam having appropriate characteristics.« less
  8. A ns-Pulse Laser Microthruster

    We have developed a prototype device which demonstrates the feasibility of using ns-duration laser pulses in a laser microthruster. Relative to the ms-duration thrusters which we have demonstrated in the past, this change offers the use of any target material, the use of reflection-mode target illumination, and adjustable specific impulse. Specific impulse is adjusted by varying laser intensity on target. In this way, we were able to vary specific impulse from 200s to 3,200s on gold. We used a Concepts Research, Inc. microchip laser with 170mW average optical power, 8kHz repetition rate and 20{mu}J pulse energy for many of themore » measurements. Thrust was in the 100nN - 1{mu}N range for all the work, requiring development of an extremely sensitive, low-noise thrust stand. We will discuss the design of metallic fuel delivery systems. Ablation efficiency near 100% was observed. Results obtained on metallic fuel systems agreed with simulations. We also report time-of-flight measurements on ejected metal ions, which gave velocities up to 80km/s.« less

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