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Bruce BettsJuly 11, 2013

Laser Bees Papers

Our Laser Bees project is all about boring into asteroids with lasers to move them. For those wishing to bore into more details of our Laser Bees project itself, graduate student Alison Gibbings from the University of Strathclyde has sent me their technical paper that resulted from the 2013 Planetary Defense Conference. I previously reported on seeing Alison at that conference and I provided their short abstract for the conference, but their paper from after the conference gives many more details and figures. Also, if you prefer a more visual format, she sent their poster that they presented at the conference (which contains less content but some additional images).

Laser Bees sandstone rock narrow ejecta cone

Laser Bees sandstone rock narrow ejecta cone
Sandstone rock during laser ablation in the lab as part of the Laser Bees project – notice the narrow conical plume of material being ejected.

Both the technical paper and the poster report on their progress in measuring the zapping of rocks in a vacuum chamber with a high-powered laser. They measure various things like temperature at the spot the laser hits the rock, the development of the hole caused by the laser, the development of the plume of vaporized rock, and the deposition on materials in the chamber. All of this allows them to improve models of what would happen if you used a spacecraft (or multiple spacecraft) with an even higher powered laser to zap a dangerous asteroid to move it to a safe orbit.  Bottom line: their measurements went well and have provided insights into changes to be made to the conceptual model. And they noticed not just rock vapor comes out of the hole, but also unvaporized rock kicked out by the vaporizing rock -- another thing to account for in understanding the process. A new round of experiments will be run later this summer that will provide different measurements on a variety of materials. Stay tuned, and enjoy some light reading in the meantime.

Read more: Planetary Society Projects, planetary defense and Mirror Bees, Future Mission Concepts, Earth impact hazard, near-Earth asteroids

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Bruce Betts

Director of Science and Technology / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society
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