A new method for improving the thrust generated by laser-propulsion systems may bring them one step closer to practical use. The method, developed by physicists Yuri Rezunkov of the Institute of Optoelectronic Instrument Engineering, Russia, and Alexander Schmidt of the Ioffe Physical Technical Institute in Saint Petersburg, Russia, integrates a laser‑ablation propulsion system with the gas‑blasting nozzles of a spacecraft. Combining the two systems can increase the speed of the gas flow out of the system to supersonic speeds, while reducing the amount of burned fuel.
The effectiveness of current laser-propulsion techniques is limited by factors including the instability of supersonic gases as they flow through the gas nozzle, as well as the production of shock waves that "choke" the inlet of the nozzle, reducing thrust. But those effects can be reduced with the help of a laser‑ablation plasma plume that is redirected so that it will flow close to the interior walls of the nozzle. Coupling the ablation jet with supersonic gas flow through the nozzle, they find, significantly improves the overall thrust generated by the nozzle.