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Seminar Presentation on

Beam Powered Propulsion

Presented By-


Presented By-

Seminar Guide-
Mr. Rohit Kumar
Assistant Professor, Dept of AE, Guide:
MVJCE, Bangalore.
Content Outline :

• Introduction
• Basic Working Principle
• Classification
• Laser Ablation Thrust Generation
• Detonation Thrusters
• Photonic Laser Thruster (PLT)
• Microwave propulsion
• Advantages of Beam Powered Propulsion
• Proposed Systems
• Conclusion

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Introduction :

Beam-powered propulsion, also known as directed energy propulsion,

is a class of aircraft or spacecraft propulsion that uses energy beamed
to the spacecraft from a remote power plant to provide energy.

With beamed propulsion one can leave the power-source stationary on

the ground, and directly (or via a heat exchanger) heat propellant on
the spacecraft with a maser or a laser beam from a fixed installation,
this permits the spacecraft to leave its power-source at home, saving
significant amounts of mass, greatly improving performance.

Although the technology has had some form of advancement, it’s still
in its early phase and there are a lot of issues that need addressing, like:
the power of lasers, the small size of the craft and the tiny amounts of
propellant they carry.
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Basic Working Principle :

• A beamed powered propulsion system would involve focusing

microwave or laser beams on a heat exchanger or directly on solid
propellants aboard the rocket.

• The energy received by the propellant will be sufficient to

accelerate it away from the rocket and thereby producing thrust.

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Basic Working Principle (Continued) :

• Electromagnetic beam has momentum

• Therefore, a reflected beam of light exerts force proportional to its

power: F=2P/c

• Where F is force in Newtons, P is

Power in Watts and c is speed of
light in m/s

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Classification :

Based on the type of energy used to produce the beam for propulsion,
beam powered propulsion is classified into:
1. Laser Propulsion
2. Microwave Propulsion
3. Electric Propulsion
Laser Electric Propulsion
Microwave Electric Propulsion
4. Solar Sails

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Laser Ablation Thrust Generation:

• Laser energy is absorbed through inverse bremsstrahlung, which

requires the presence of initial free electrons.

• A solid propellant usually possesses sufficient free electrons

• A fluid propellant, which is in a gaseous state by the time it is

exposed to the laser irradiation, must first be ionized

• If the light is focused near or on a solid surface, breakdown

threshold is considerably reduced.

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Laser Ablation Thrust Generation

• When laser pulse energy is focused on a solid target, highly ionized

matter is ejected at a supersonic speed from the target surface as
• Ablation imparts an impulse to the target in the direction opposite
the jet and the target is propelled. Solid laser ablation can generate
Ve of about 10k/m.

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Detonation Thrusters:

* 9
Photonic Laser Thruster (PLT):

A photonic laser thruster (PLT) is an amplified photonic propulsion

thruster for space propulsion that works on the principle of a photon-
pushed sail, generating thrust directly from the momentum of a photon
from a laser reflected from a mirror.
The incident beam is re-used by being reflected by a stationary mirror,
with an amplification stage at each reflection.

* 10
Microwave propulsion:

In microwave thermal propulsion, an external microwave beam is used

to heat a refractory heat exchanger to >1,500 K, in turn heating a
propellant such as hydrogen, methane or ammonia. This improves the
specific impulse and thrust/weight ratio of the propulsion system
relative to conventional rocket propulsion. For example, hydrogen can
provide a specific impulse of 700–900 seconds and a thrust/weight
ratio of 50-150.

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Advantages of Beam Powered Propulsion:

• Electromagnetic acceleration is only limited by the speed of light

while chemical systems are limited to the energy of chemical
• Leaving the power source and the fuel at the ground allows the
spacecraft/air vehicle to not have to carry extra load resulting in an
increase in its efficiency and performance.
• Beam Propulsion would be safer than chemical rockets since they
can't explode and don't drop off pieces as they fly.
• They are smaller and lighter because most of the complexity is on
the ground, which makes them easier and cheaper to launch.

* 12
Proposed Systems:


• A lightcraft is a vehicle currently under development that uses an external

pulsed source of laser or maser energy to provide power for producing
• By leaving the vehicle's power source on the ground and by using ambient
atmosphere as reaction mass for much of its ascent, a lightcraft would be
capable of delivering a very large percentage of its launch mass to orbit.
• It could also potentially be very cheap to manufacture.

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Proposed Systems (Continued):


• StarChip is the name used by Breakthrough Initiatives for a very small,

centimeter-sized, gram-scale, interstellar spacecraft.
• Mission is to propel a fleet of a thousand StarChips on a journey to the
Alpha Centauri star system, the nearest extrasolar stars, about 4.37 light-
years from Earth.
• The ultra-light StarChip robotic nanocrafts, fitted with lightsails, are
planned to travel at speeds of 20% and 15% of the speed of light, taking
between 20 and 30 years to reach the star system.

* 14
Proposed Systems (Continued):

Rocket Missiles

• It’s a proposed concept that makes use of the beam energy supplied by the
laser or microwave power source on the ground to propel the missiles to
their targets.
• The missiles can travel at very high speeds up to 20% of the speed of light
therefore reach the target faster.

* 15

Although, the technology for producing a large amount of laser or

microwave power is still in its early development, beam powered
propulsion has the potential to emerge as one of the futuristic forms of
space propulsion for interplanetary as well as interstellar expeditions.

Producing the power required for beam propulsion is no doubt

expensive but when we compare it with the expense of a conventional
propulsion system such as chemical propulsion, it is tremendously
cheaper and would also plummet the use of fossil fuels at a time where
it is of utmost importance that we put the use of fossil fuels in check.

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• “Beam Space Propulsion” Alexander Bolonkin

• “A Theory of Microwave Propulsion for Spacecraft” Roger

Shawyer C.Eng MIEE

• “Review Of Laser Lightcraft Propulsion System” Eric W. Davis

Review: Laser-Ablation Propulsion

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Thank you