Despite how far humans have reached in terms of space exploration, one thing that's holding them back is the long periods of space travel. Currently, it will take about five months to reach Mars but with NASA's new project on laser propulsion system, it can reduce this to just three days.
A new project spearheaded by NASA scientist Philip Lubin aims to use photonic propulsion to send spacecraft to the Red Planet in just a couple of days. This could be a laser that could push a spacecraft at incredible speeds. Though the project seems far-fetched, the technology can become reality.
How The Technology Works
With what spacecraft uses at present, burning rocket fuel is the only means to launch a rocket ship. Rocket fuel, however, can weigh down the spacecraft and it is more inefficient compared to electromagnetic acceleration.
Photonic propulsion, on the other hand, is a theoretical system that uses [PDF] particles of light to propel objects like a spacecraft into space. Light particles have no mass but they have energy that can be transformed into a "push".
Based on calculations, a 100-kilogram (220 pounds) spacecraft can be launched into space in just three days. A manned mission would take a little longer because of the weight. It may take about a month which is still shorter than what current technology provides today.
The Space Launch System (SLS)
NASA is currently working on its Space Launch System (SLS), the world's most powerful rocket to take humans to Mars. If this rocket is completed, it will enable astronauts to begin their journey into deep space including planets like Mars, Saturn and even Jupiter.
In 2015, NASA completed the design review of the rocket and engineers are working on the design to make progress aimed towards delivering the first SLS rocket by 2018.
NASA is exploring other projects that aim to explore the Red Planet. It recently funded a University of Michigan design for spacecraft thrusters. This is part of NASA's Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP), which aims to make the manned mission to Mars a reality.
Known as X3, the thruster component of the big propulsion system called XR-100, works by expelling plasma at incredible speeds that provides a forward thrust. X3 is competing with two other designs but this is the only one created by members of a university.