We report on laboratory studies of the effectiveness of directed energy planetary defense as a part of the DE-STAR (Directed Energy System for Targeting of Asteroids and exploRation) program. DE-STAR and DE-STARLITE are directed energy "stand-off" and "stand-on" programs, respectively. These systems consist of a modular array of kilowatt-class lasers powered by photovoltaics, and are capable of heating a spot on the surface of an asteroid to the point of vaporization. Mass ejection, as a plume of evaporated material, creates a reactionary thrust capable of diverting the asteroid’s orbit. In a series of papers, we have developed a theoretical basis and described numerical simulations for determining the thrust produced by material evaporating from the surface of an asteroid. In the DE-STAR concept, the asteroid itself is used as the deflection "propellant". This study presents results of experiments designed to measure the thrust created by evaporation from a laser directed energy spot. We constructed a vacuum chamber to simulate space conditions, and installed a torsion balance that holds an "asteroid" sample. The sample is illuminated with a fiber array laser with flux levels up to 60 MW/m2 which allows us to simulate a mission level flux but on a small scale. We use a separate laser as well as a position sensitive centroid detector to readout the angular motion of the torsion balance and can thus determine the thrust. We compare the measured thrust to the models. Our theoretical models indicate a coupling coefficient well in excess of 100 μN/W optical, though we assume a more conservative value of 80 μN/W optical and then degrade this with an optical "encircled energy" efficiency of 0.75 to 60 μN/W optical in our deflection modeling. Our measurements discussed here yield about 45 μN/W absorbed as a reasonable lower limit to the thrust per optical watt absorbed.


Statistics and Probability

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