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Advanced Space Technologies: Precision Spacecraft FormationAdvanced Space Technologies: Precision Spacecraft Formation

Precision Spacecraft Formation - Nano-Precision, Contamination-free Photon Tether Formation Flight (PTFF) System for next generation satellite/spacecraft missions. Offering dramatically lower launch weights and station keeping costs, orders of magnitude increses in observation resolutions from space. The core technology is a combination of a push force from photon thrusters and a pull force from Kevlar tethers for precise inter-satellite control. Photon thrusters amplify thrust tens of thousands of times through a proprietary intracavity system for bouncing photons off of mirrors between satellites. As a result, the thrust power requirement for formations of 100 kg spacecraft configurations can be reduced to several watts per pair of satellites, well within today's space power budgets. No other propellants are needed, providing mass energy savings and contaminant free operation for future space missions equipped with highly sensitive sensors.

The Bae PTFF formation flying method is:

  • Free of propellants, and thus contamination-free
  • Capable of maintaining inter-spacecraft distance accuracy to less than a nanometer at distances of hundreds of meters
  • Capable of providing significant propulsion system mass savings allowing decades of stabilized orbital flight
  • Readily scalable to nano- and pico-satellite geometric formation flying applications
  • Lightweight and low power permits dual-usage of the photon thruster for ultra-high precision interferometric ranging applications, and simplifies system architecture.

Advanced Space Technologies: Advanced Propulsion

-- Enabling Next Generation Space Exploration Endeavor

Schematic Diagram of a Photonic Laser Thruster (PLT) Concept for Propelling Spacecraft in SpacePhotonic Laser Thruster (PLT) – Enabling wide ranges of next generation space endeavors from launching spacecraft to near light speed to precision controlling spacecraft/satellite formation flying.

Our patent-pending Photonic Laser Thruster (PLT) is an innovative photon thruster that amplifies photon thrust by orders of magnitude by exploiting an active resonant optical cavity formed between two mirrors on paired spacecraft. PLT is predicted to be able to provide the thrust to power ratio (a measure of how efficient a thruster is in terms of converting power to thrust) approaching that of conventional thrusters, such as laser ablation thrusters and electrical thrusters. Yet, PLT has the highest specific impulse (a measure of how fast the fuel can propel spacecraft) orders of magnitude larger than that of other conventional thrusters. Recently, we have successfully demonstrated the photon thrust amplification in PLT for the first time in history with an amplification factor of 3,000. Scaling-up of PLT is highly promising, and PLT is predicted to enable wide ranges of next generation space endeavors. Low thrust (milli-Newton) PLTs enable nanometer precision spacecraft formation, for example Photon Tether Formation Flight (PTFF), for forming ultralarge space telescopes and radars. Medium thrust (Newton) PLTs enable precision propellantless orbit changing and docking. High thrust (greater than kilo-Newton) PLTs enable propelling spacecraft at speeds beyond hundreds km/sec. At such speeds, spacecraft could transit from Earth to Mars in less than one week.


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