Mode-Locked Lasers Exerting Propulsive Force in Space

UAH-P-13015-Mode-Locked Lasers Exerting Propulsive Force in Space-REVISED-01

Docket: UAH-P-13015


After near Earth objects (NEOs) were discovered to be on a collision course with Earth, the White House Office of Science and Technology charged NASA on October 15, 2010 with "implementing a deflection campaign, in consultation with international bodies."

Researchers at UAH have modeled a system of mode-locked lasers exerting propulsive force in space which uses energetic sub-picosecond optical pulses to deflect NEOs. Ultra-short optical pulses are applied to generate an ablative propulsive thrust so as to deflect NEOs. For example, current capabilities allow pulses that might have energies of 40 mJ and durations of &#60 1 picosecond. While they could not be usefully transmitted over distances of interest with Earth's atmosphere, pulses of this and substantially larger peak energies can be used freely in the vacuum of space.

This system exerts propulsive thrust on an object in space which could be an NEO, such as an asteroid, comet, or spacecraft. This system is novel in the degree and manner to which it can exert a propulsive thrust at a distance, e.g. by ablating material selectively from an asteroid or comet that may be on collision course with Earth.


  • Moving asteroids, comets, and other NEOs


  • Efficient propulsive thrust
  • High resolution
  • Capability to exert large thrust at a moderate distance


  • State of Development: Proof of concept
  • Licensing Status: Available for licensing
  • Patent Status: Proprietary