Potential of laser-induced ablation for future space applications

Gibbings, Alison and Vasile, Massimiliano and Hopkins, John-Mark and Burns, David and Watson, Ian A. (2012) Potential of laser-induced ablation for future space applications. Space Policy, 28 (3). pp. 149-153. ISSN 0265-9646 (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.spacepol.2012.06.008)

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This paper surveys recent and current advancements of laser-induced ablation technology for space-based applications and discusses ways of bringing such applications to fruition. Laser ablation is achieved by illuminating a given material with a laser light source. The high surface power densities provided by the laser enable the illuminated material to sublimate and ablate. Possible applications include the deflection of Near Earth Objects asteroids and comets from an Earth-impacting event, the vaporisation of space structures and debris, the mineral and material extraction of asteroids and/or as an energy source for future propulsion systems. This paper will discuss each application and the technological advancements that are required to make laser-induced ablation a practical process for use within the space arena. Particular improvements include the efficiency of high power lasers, the collimation of the laser beam (including beam quality) and the power conversion process. These key technological improvements are seen as strategic and merit greater political and commercial support.