Newsletter, Fall 2000
Lightcraft Technologies, Inc., headquartered in Bennington, VT, is launching a revolution in low-cost access to space, promoting the use of beamed energy propulsion to accelerate vehicles called Lightcraft into orbit for a fraction of the cost it currently takes to get any object into space.
Lightcraft Technologies, Inc. was incorporated for the specific purpose of developing beamed energy propulsion into a commercial reality. LTI defines a Lightcraft as any flight platform, air-borne vehicle, or spacecraft designed for propulsion by a beam of light. Leik Myrabo, the CEO of LTI and co-author Dean Ing, were the first to coin the word "Lightcraft" in their 1985 book The Future of Flight.
LTI believes that only laser propulsion holds the potential for providing the lowest cost micro-satellite launch services in the next five years. LTI believes that only beamed energy propulsion holds the promise of reducing the cost of space access by 100 X in the next 5-10 years, and ultimately enabling a 1000-fold cost reduction in the next 20 years for manned flights. Simultaneously, this energy-beam highway through the skies will also increase the reliability and safety of space travel to incredibly high levels - equivalent to today's airline operations or better. LTI intends to manufacture aerospace craft that ride "Highways of Light" directly into orbit, around the planet in 45 minutes, or to the moon in a single stage.How can we do it? (top) (next)
Because 90% of the launch mass of conventional rockets is their chemical fuel, getting into space today is very expensive and the engines are stressed to their limits. Lightcraft can deliver payloads into space for a fraction of the cost of traditional rockets because most of the engine stays on the ground, thereby unburdening the craft from having to lift the energy source for its propulsion system. A ground-based laser is the power source that propels the Lightcraft into orbit. The backside of the craft is a large, highly polished parabolic mirror that is designed to capture the laser beam projected at it from the ground. This mirror focuses the pulsed beam into the shroud, rapidly heating the air and creating a blast wave that pushes this vehicle upward. As the beam is rapidly pulsed, the vehicle is continuously propelled forward, on its way to orbit.
The necessary technology to pull this off is all here today. High power laser technology, Lightcraft optics and materials, electronics, guidance and control systems are largely existing technology that is being tailored for a new application. A notable feature of this revolutionary space launch technology is that by far the most expensive part of the laser Lightcraft propulsion system (i.e., the laser and telescope) always remains on the ground and is never subjected to the risks of launch.That's great, but does it fly? (top) (next)
Yes-Lightcraft have been tested in the New Mexico desert for the past 4 years, and on July 9, 1999, exceeded Goddard's initial flight of 41 feet by a factor of three. An exhilarating 128 vertical feet. At this point in the testing program, the principal factor holding back the Lightcraft from setting extreme altitude records is a more powerful laser. Good news: LTI has helped to uncover a vintage pulsed electric discharge carbon dioxide (CO2) laser that can propel our Lightcraft to the edge of space, after its subsequent upgrade to 100 kilowatts of beam power.
For the next 5 years, the company will focus its attention on developing technology for launching kilogram-class commercial micro-satellites with a megawatt ground-based infrared electric laser. Suitable commercial opportunities at the 100-kW level should at least include: a) space radiation hardness testing of small, but critical electronic components of future large satellites, and b) short term zero-G testing. These flights would be vertical sub-orbital "sounding rocket" trajectories to 50-100 km altitudes.Is there investment opportunity? (top) (next)
This vision of our future in space depends heavily upon significant investments in an energy-beaming infrastructure that inexpensive Lightcraft can ride. In the immediate future, LTI is seeking sponsors to explore major refinements of this revolutionary kind of laser propulsion engine and vehicle to bring the system to a much higher performance level than has been demonstrated to date. Additional funds are needed to develop and construct new prototypes, protect intellectual property rights, and obtain performance data from both laboratory experiments and outdoor flight-testing.
Last year, LTI successfully forged a partnership with a non-profit organization interested in promoting low cost access to space. Under this grant, LTI is developing a family of new and improved laser propulsion engine geometries, integrated with vehicle concepts that are specifically tailored for the micro-satellite launch application. These innovative prototype engine geometries will soon be tested in the laboratory with available pulsed CO2 lasers, in the quest for improved engine performance. With further engine/vehicle development and the construction of a suitable launch stand, these new laser Lightcraft will then be flight-tested outdoors, using the existing 10-kW carbon dioxide laser at WSMR.
Investors have the opportunity to get in at the ground floor and promote this revolutionary micro-satellite launch technology that will reduce payload delivery costs to unheard of levels after just a few years of research and development. Chemical rockets will not be able to compete for this class of payloads, once laser launch technology becomes commercially available. LTI's Lightcraft engine and vehicle development goals for the near future are intrinsically tied to the availability of high power lasers for performance testing. In the near future these "Highways of Light" will be unbelievably inexpensive and safe to ride for all of us. The full-sized embodiment of people-carrying Lightcraft is less than a generation away. This is the ambitious LTI company vision: To ultimately enable affordable orbital flights, for a space faring society.Any plans for commercial applications? (top)
LTI envisions a host of innovative applications for its proposed micro-satellite laser launch enterprise. Among these are high resolution imaging and mapping (Earth resources inventories, real estate subdivisions, state and local government tax parcels, etc.), global positioning systems, astronomical telescopes (1-meter diameter mirror for amateur and professional use), secure telecommunications (cellular phones, pagers), lightweight replacement electronic components (small, but urgently needed payloads) delivered to the International Space Station, as well as threat detection and tracking (military).
By exploiting the economies of scale, kilogram-class micro-satellites could cost less than the price of a new automobile. And, to accelerate them into orbit will cost no more than a few hundred dollars worth of electricity to run the megawatt closed-cycle electric laser.