Feeds

NASA funds laser tractor beam research

Shifting particles, not the Enterprise, using SciFi staple

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

NASA has awarded a $100,000 grant to three boffins who are investigating a tractor beam trifecta.

Principal Investigator Paul Stysley and team members Demetrios Poulios and Barry Coyle at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center received the grant to research three methods of using lasers to collect particulate samples without the need for touch, which could contaminate the collected material.

"Though a mainstay in science fiction, and Star Trek in particular, laser-based trapping isn't fanciful or beyond current technological know-how," Stysley said in a statement. "The original thought was that we could use tractor beams for cleaning up orbital debris, but to pull something that huge would be almost impossible - at least now. That's when it bubbled up that perhaps we could use the same approach for sample collection."

One of the methods under study uses "optical tweezers" – two counter-propagating beams of light. This is already in use in a limited way and adjusts the strength of the two beams to move particles within the ring-like structure created by the beams, via the heat that those beams generates. While promising, this technique does require an atmosphere in which to work, making it unsuitable for many missions.

The second technique, which has been tested in the laboratory, uses optical solenoid beams – which the boffins define as "those whose intensity peaks spiral around the axis of propagation" – to pull particles towards the light source using electromagnetic effects. This technique will work in a vacuum, making it suitable for deep space missions.

The third technique is entirely theoretical at this point, but uses Bessel beams to induce electrical or magnetic fields within particulates, and use those to propel them.

"We want to make sure we thoroughly understand these methods," Coyle said. "We have hope that one of these will work for our purposes. We're at the starting gate on this. This is a new application that no one has claimed yet." ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Relive the death of Earth over and over again in Extinction Game
Apocalypse now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that ...
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.