Levitation with the help of light – new installations will study the upper layers of the atmosphere

News » Science & Technology

 Light levitation — new installations will study the upper atmosphere

NASA is engaged not only in space development, but also in atmospheric research. The American space agency is interested in studying our atmosphere and in technologies that allow us to do this. Thus , a NASA Advanced Concepts Institute (NIAC) program awarded a grant team from the University of Pennsylvania to develop a new type of engine that uses only light to collect data in Earth's difficult mesosphere.

Mesosphere — it is a part of the atmosphere located at an altitude of 50 to 80 km, and it has a number of disadvantages for modern reconnaissance technologies. It is too high for balloons or conventional aircraft, which makes standard high-altitude reconnaissance technologies impractical. It is also too low for satellites, since they the orbit degrades too quickly due to the relatively dense density of this atmospheric layer, making a typical space-based sensor platform impractical as well. The only way researchers have been able to study the mesosphere so far is — these are research rockets that stay in this layer for only a few minutes before returning to Earth.

The laboratory of Dr. Igor Bargatin, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, proposes a new technology that uses a phenomenon known as photophoretic levitation using beams of light.
This propulsion technology may seem similar to that used in solar sails, but the thin layers of foil used in solar sails will burn up instantly in the Earth's atmosphere. The photophoretic effect, known for almost a century, uses the heating of a solid body compared to the surrounding gas as lift. According to Dr. Bargatin's press release on the NIAC website, “photophoretic force creates lift in structures that absorb light from below but remain cool from above.”

The contribution of Dr. Bargatin's lab is to make the first macro scale demonstration of a system using this technology. All previous attempts have been on the micrometer scale as lift is extremely weak, making it difficult to apply any significant lift to any payload it is to. can be attached.

The design of the laboratory is largely dependent on the pressure at which its plates operate, and it just so happens that the mesosphere, whose pressure ranges from 1 to 100 pascals, falls just in the place where the lifting action is most effective, creating sufficient lift, to keep the centimeter probe in the air, possibly indefinitely. Previously only possible with research rockets.
In fact, these miniature levitating craft could potentially stay in the air indefinitely if the technology were modified to using solar power and would have a day/night cycle where it would go from ascending during the day to descending at night. Dr. Bargatin and his team also believe that the technology can be modified slightly to provide horizontal thrust, allowing the sensor platform to move to any point mesosphere, using only light as the source of motion.

As is the case with all NIA grants C, this technology is still in the very early stages and it will be a long time before any payload mission is launched into the mesosphere. However, since the proof of concept has already been completed and recently published, it seems likely that this new a type of propulsion technology may soon have its place under the sun.

Follow us on Telegram

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *