Feeds

NASA funds laser tractor beam research

Shifting particles, not the Enterprise, using SciFi staple

High performance access to file storage

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." ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Fancy joining Reg hack on quid-a-day challenge?
Recruiting now for charity starvation diet
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
Opportunity selfie: Martian winds have given the spunky ol' rover a spring cleaning
Power levels up 70 per cent as the rover keeps on truckin'
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.