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Experimental characterization of the thrust induced by laser ablation on an asteroid

Gibbings, Alison and Vasile, Massimiliano and Hopkins, John-Mark and Burns, David and Watson, Ian A. (2013) Experimental characterization of the thrust induced by laser ablation on an asteroid. In: IAA Planetary Defense Conference, 2013-04-15 - 2013-05-19.

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    This paper presents an improved laser ablation model and compares the performance – Δv and mass efficiency - of laser ablation against contactless deflection methods based on ion-propulsion. The deflection of an asteroid through laser ablation is achieved by illuminating the surface of the asteroid with a high intensity laser light. The absorbed energy induces the sublimation of the surface material and the generation of a plume of gas and ejecta. Similar to a rocket engine, the flow of expelled material produces a continuous and controllable thrust that could be used to modify the trajectory and tumbling motion of the asteroid. Recent results gained from a series of laser ablation experiments were used to improve the sublimation and deflection models. In each experiment a terrestrial olivine sample was ablated, under vacuum, with a 90 W continuous wave laser. The outcomes of the experimental campaign have enabled the mathematic model, and its defining assumptions to be evaluated and updated