Dr. Young Bae stands next to his invention, which he built from off the shelf components.  (Source: The Bae Institute)

The PLT in action, producing a weapons grade beam in a small package.  (Source: The Bae Institute)
Dr. Young Bae has created a working prototype that promises to provide effective laser propulsion in space at unprecedented speeds.

Dr. Young Bae of the Bae Institute definitely thinks outside the box when it comes to aerospace propulsion techniques.  Where others are thinking fuel, he's thinking photons.

Last December, Dr. Young Bae unveiled a unique invention: the Photonic Laser Thruster (PLT) with an amplification factor of 3,000 in December, 2006.  The engine promised to provide a novel new means of transportation in space.

Word spread fast and before long Dr. Bae had visitors from some of aerospace's strongest organizations--NASA JPL, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), and AFRL (Air Force Research Laboratory) --among others.

Dr. Franklin Mead, Senior Aerospace Engineer, and leading rocket scientist in laser and advanced propulsion at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) was quoted in Bae Institute press release as stating, "I attended Dr. Bae's presentation about his PLT demonstration and measurement of photon thrust here at AFRL. It was pretty incredible stuff and to my knowledge, I don’t think anyone has done this before. It has generated a lot of interest around here."

In the past, photons thrusters have been relegated to science fiction as they were considered too unpractical for modern space flight.  While such a device would have the advantage of nearly constant thrust, unlike a fuel rocket, photons have no mass so it could take years to equal the speed of traditional propulsion techniques.

Part of the Photonic Laser Thrust's secret lies in amplifying and bouncing the photon beam.  The photon beam is bounced back and forth between a set of mirrors, creating a powerful net propulsion force.

Dr. Bae Young built the PLT using off the shelf components at the Southern California laboratory of the Bae Institute.  The patent pending device uses an egg-size laser head to produce a laser so powerful, only massive weapons and commercial grade lasers are able to match it.

The laser generates 35 uN of thrust and is scalable to much larger amounts of propulsion.  Dr. Young Bae has stated that the device could propel a spacecraft to speeds well beyond 100 km/sec.  He recently announced that a spacecraft utilizing the PLT could transit the 100 million km to Mars in less than a week.

Aside from being used as propulsion, the device could be used to control a group of objects in space to carefully fly together in formation--think something like an Air Force jet squadron.  Dr. Bae is patenting a process to use the PLT in a Photon Tether Formation Flight (PTFF), which could offer control of spacecraft flying in formation with nanometer precision. The laser’s current power requirements are within current acceptable space limits and its abilities could accommodate a wide range of NASA spacecraft formation flight configurations, such as SPECS and MAXIM.

The project was built on a very small budget and its accomplishments have helped it secure funding from a prestigious Phase II NIAC grant (NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts), which funds only the most revolutionary ideas for the next generation NASA space missions.

Dr. Bae's PLT demonstration paper, "Photonic Laser Propulsion: Proof-of-Concept Demonstration" has been accepted for publication later this year in the peer-reviewed AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) Journal.  In the paper Dr. Bae contrasts his technique with past attempts at laser propulsion.  In the paper Dr. Bae reveals the secret to the PLT's coherency and stability--placing the laser medium in a resonant optical cavity.

Dr. Bae presented his PLT concepts this week with demonstrations at the AIAA Space 2007 Conference in four sessions: Space Transportation Systems, Promising Space Concepts from the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts (NIAC), Space Systems for the Next 50 Years, and Advanced Vehicle Systems.

The device is pretty incredible and the idea that it could cut the journey to Mars to only a week shows its potential.  Much more work is to be done, but Dr. Young Bae's PLT may revolutionize the aerospace propulsion industry.

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