Improved laser ablation model for asteroid deflection

Vasile, Massimiliano and Gibbings, Alison and Watson, Ian A. and Hopkins, John-Mark (2014) Improved laser ablation model for asteroid deflection. Acta Astronautica, 103. pp. 382-394. ISSN 0094-5765 (

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This paper presents an improved laser ablation model and compares the performance - momentum coupling and deflection system mass - 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 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 paper presents a model that better fits the outcomes of the experimental campaign, in particular in terms of mass flow rate and spot temperature.