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May the “Plasmonic” Force Be With You!

Dr. Xiaodong Yang (left) and Dr. Joshua Rovey were selected for funding by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. Photo credit: Brianna Bales

“Plasmonic” force propulsion – a new way to precisely nudge and position tiny spacecraft. Credit: Joshua Rovey/Xiaodong Yang

“Plasmonic” force propulsion – a new way to precisely nudge and position tiny spacecraft.

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently selected for funding this creative concept, giving the thumbs up on the idea proposed by two researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology.

According to Joshua Rovey, plasmonics works through the interaction between light and matter. Plasmonic force is created when sunlight hits a metal under certain circumstances, generating a density wave of the electrons on its surface.

So when light interacts with these petite probes, it can generate very strong optical force fields that the research team believes can be used to expel tiny nanoparticles at very high speeds. Those nanoparticles would propel a small spacecraft.

Tap into sunlight

“Propulsion usually requires mass, volume and power,” says Rovey. “We think we can instead tap into the light directly from the sun to interact with these nanostructures to directly power the plasmonic propulsion system,” he explained in a university press statement.

In this initial phase of the NIAC-supported project, Rovey and Xiaodong Yang – also an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Missouri S&T — will build upon existing models and simulation tools to assess the feasibility of plasmonic propulsion to meet or exceed the demands of future NASA missions.

The research team believes that plasmonic force propulsion could allow NASA to conduct science and exploration missions that were previously impossible.

“NASA could use this technology to send these satellites on deep-space missions, like to Jupiter or other distant planets,” Rovey reports.

By Leonard David via Linda Fulps

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