Laser-Based Propulsion System Could Get Us to Mars in Record Time; Just Three Days

Scientists are gearing up for further explorations into space. But normal rockets aren’t going to cut it for missions to places like Mars and beyond. With conventional rocketry, we can make it to the red planet in five months’ time, at its closest point to Earth.
Photonic propulsion could be the answer, according to NASA scientist Philip Lubin. Lubin explains his concept in a recent video for NASA 360. He and his team were awarded a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) grant of $100,000 to outline a roadmap and conduct initial testing. The project is dubbed: Directed Energy Propulsion for Interstellar Exploration (DEEP-IN). Using this method, an unmanned probe could make it to Mars in about three days’ time, at the red planet’s closest point. The plan calls for placing a laser in Earth’s orbit. It could serve another purpose as well, as a defense system, protecting our planet from asteroids.
For propulsion, the system uses a solar sail pushed by the laser. A solar sail is what it sounds like, a thin, lightweight material which fills with photons or light particles reflected off of any surface, and catches them, much like a normal sail catches wind, causing propulsion. There have been two successful tests of such a sail, the IKAROS mission conducted by Japan’s JAXA space agency in 2010, and another by NASA in 2011.