June 10, 2002

A LASER-POWERED PAPER PLANE doesn’t sound like much. But this research could lead to dirt-cheap space launch. The energy cost to put a person in orbit is considerably less than flying one across the Atlantic — the problem has been that we use energy so inefficiently when launching things into orbit. Laser launch would largely eliminate ordinary rockets (you’d actually still need a small one for a circularization burn) and would make large-scale space activity practical. This is a small step in that direction. (U.S. labs have done similar stuff already, though not with anything winged).

Plus it’s kind of cool.

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