Is Planetary Defense Feasible - DE-STAR: A Planetary Defense and Exploration System


Tuesday, February 11 2014 - 12:00 pm, PST
Philip Lubin

death starDr. Lubin will discuss how his team has proposed an orbital planetary defense system that is capable of beamed power allowing a number of directed energy (DE) possibilities including planetary defense, propulsion allowing relativistic probes and interstellar communications using existing technologies. Recent developments in photonics allow such a system whereas even a decade ago it would have been simply science fiction. 

While designed primarily for DE planetary defense to heat the surface of potentially hazardous objects to the evaporation point to mitigate asteroid threats the system is inherently multi functional with a number of additional applications including relativistic beamed spacecraft propulsion and interstellar and even intergalactic scale communications (modulo time of flight of course).

The main objective of DE-STAR would be to use the focused directed energy to raise the surface spot temperature of an asteroid to >3000K, allowing direct evaporation of all known substances. The same system is also capable of propelling spacecraft to relativistic speeds to allow rapid interplanetary travel and relativistic interstellar probes. The baseline system for full planetary defense against any known threat is a DE-STAR 4 (10km sized array) system which allows for asteroid engagement starting beyond 1AU (mean Earth-Sun distance) with a spot of 30 m at 1 AU. This is an extremely conservative approach and a smaller DE-STAR 3 (1 km array) allows for reasonable planetary defense. The baseline system is also capable of propelling a 102, 103, 104 kg spacecraft to 1 AU in 3,10,30 days with speeds of about 0.4% the speed of light when used in a “photon rail gun mode”.

The same system can also be used for communications out to extremely large distance. For example all the known Kepler planets would see the DE-STAR beacon as the brightest star in the sky (assuming their sky is like ours). The system is also visible at intergalactic distances (Andromeda for example). This brings up the question of a visible/ IR SETI search that we will discuss and their implications. Smaller systems are also extremely useful and can be built now. While decidedly futuristic in its outlook many of the core technologies now exist and small systems can be built to test the basic concepts as the technology improves. In this talk we will review the potential for standoff protection, relativistic propulsion, long range interstellar communications and SETI searches as well as the key technologies.

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