Beam It Up Scotty

Written by Jan Corpus. Posted in Creative, Technology

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Published on March 18, 2016 with No Comments

Stardust Spacecraft

Image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video via Flickr

“Though a mainstay in science fiction, and ‘Star Trek’ in particular, laser-based trapping isn’t fanciful or beyond current technological know-how,” said Paul Stysley, a laser engineer at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. NASA’s Stardust mission used aerogel – a lightweight, porous material also known as frozen smoke – to trap samples as the probe flew through the outer atmosphere of comet Wild 2. Robotic rovers and landers have used scoops and arms to scrape samples from the surface of Mars. “An optical trapping system, on the other hand, could grab desired molecules from the upper atmosphere on an orbiting spacecraft or trap them from the ground or lower atmosphere from a lander,” Stysley said. Such technology would allow robotic rovers and orbiters to collect samples from Mars’ atmosphere, for instance, or give deep-space probes a longer reach for scooping up passing particles. NASA originally considered the idea of tractor beams to solve the problem of space junk that has created a cloud of orbital debris around Earth.

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