Laser-Accelerated Plasma-Propulsion System

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D. Palla, G. Cristoforetti

Appl. Sci. 2021, 11(21), 10154


In this paper, the laser-accelerated plasma–propulsion system (LAPPS) for a spacecraft is revisited. Starting from the general properties of relativistic propellants, the relations between specific impulse, engine thrust and rocket dynamics have been obtained. The specific impulse is defined in terms of the relativistic velocity of the propellant using the Walter’s parameterization, which is a suitable and general formalism for closed–cycle engines. Finally, the laser-driven acceleration of light ions via Target Normal Sheath Acceleration (TNSA) is discussed as a thruster. We find that LAPPS is capable of an impressive specific impulse Isp in the 105 s range for a laser intensity I0≃1021 W/cm2. The limit of Isp≲104 s, which characterizes most of the other plasma-based space electric propulsion systems, can be obtained with a relatively low laser intensity of I0≳1019 W/cm2. Finally, at fixed laser energy, the engine thrust can be larger by a factor 102 with respect to previous estimates, making the LAPPS potentially capable of thrust-power ratios in the N/MW range.

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