Plenary: Prof. Phillip Lubin

Large Scale Directed Energy for Relativistic Flight

The ability to project power over vast distances has radical and transformational implications for humanity from space exploration to planetary defense to SETI. The ability to master this technology is largely a mathematical problem in phase convergence. Chemical reactions, at best, have an efficiency compared to rest mass of 10-10 (or about 1eV per bond). While chemistry, NTP, NEP, SEP can get us to Mars they do not allow rapid interplanetary nor interstellar capability. Recent advances in photonics and directed energy systems now allow us to realize the ability to project the high power over vast distances that is needed for space applications, including the ability to achieve relativistic flight among many other applications.

Our system consists of a phased array of optical amplifiers in a MOPA (Master Oscillator Power Amplifier) topology. This allows a completely modular and scalable approach with every sub- element being of modest power and size with the advantage of mass production and photonic integration. The same core technology can be used for many other purposes including planetary defense, stand-off composition analysis, space debris mitigation, power beaming to long range spacecraft and other distant assets, LEO and GEO power beaming from Earth and space among many others. This allows for a logical roadmap where milestones are immediately useful as the technology is matured.

Starting in 2009 we began to explore the theoretical and technological basis for this program which has now been funded by a variety of sources including multiple NASA grants and various private and foundational support. We have published approximately 60 technical papers and two books. We have built multiple lab demonstrations and can now phase lock over 50 km diameter (larger than needed for beginning relativistic flight programs) and have developed high efficiency (nearly 50%) optical amplifiers with very long coherence length and mitigation of typical atmospheric effects and have full scale sub-elements. Directed energy represents a long term scalable program that can lead to interstellar capability and many other uses.