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Nanophotonic Heterostructures for Efficient Propulsion and Radiative Cooling of Relativistic Light Sails

Ilic, Ognjen and Went, Cora M. and Atwater, Harry A. (2018) Nanophotonic Heterostructures for Efficient Propulsion and Radiative Cooling of Relativistic Light Sails. Nano Letters, 18 (9). pp. 5583-5589. ISSN 1530-6984. doi:10.1021/acs.nanolett.8b02035.

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Light sails propelled by radiation pressure from high-power lasers have the potential to achieve relativistic spaceflight. In order to propel a spacecraft to relativistic speeds, an ultrathin, gram-sized light sail will need to be stably accelerated by lasers with ∼MW/cm2 intensities operating in the near-infrared spectral range. Such a laser-driven sail requires multiband electromagnetic functionality: it must simultaneously exhibit very low absorptivity in the (Doppler-broadened) laser beam spectrum in the near-infrared and high emissivity in the mid-infrared for efficient radiative cooling. These engineering challenges present an opportunity for nanophotonic design. Here, we show that designed thin-film heterostructures could become multifunctional building-block elements of the light sail, due to their ability to achieve substantial reflectivity while maintaining low absorption in the near-infrared, significant emissivity in the mid-infrared, and a very low mass. For a light sail carrying a payload, we propose a relevant figure of merit—the reflectivity adjusted area density—that can capture the trade-off between sail mass and reflectivity, independent of other quantities such as the incident beam power, phased array size, or the payload mass. Furthermore, we present designs for effective thermal management via radiative cooling and compare propulsion efficiencies for several candidate materials, using a general approach that could apply to a broad range of high-power laser propulsion problems.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription Information
Atwater, Harry A.0000-0001-9435-0201
Additional Information:© 2018 American Chemical Society. Received: May 19, 2018; Revised: July 20, 2018; Published: July 31, 2018. This work was supported by the Caltech Space Solar Power project (C.M.W.) and by the DOE “Light-Material Interactions in Energy Conversion” Energy Frontier Research Center under Grant DE-SC0001293 (O.I.). C.M.W. acknowledges fellowship support from the Resnick Sustainability Institute and from an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (Grant No. 1745301). We acknowledge helpful discussions with Zac Manchester, Mike Kelzenberg, Michelle Sherrott, Artur Davoyan, Deep Jariwala, William Whitney, Joeson Wong, and Kevin Parkin. The authors declare no competing financial interest.
Group:Resnick Sustainability Institute, Space Solar Power Project
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Space Solar Power ProjectUNSPECIFIED
Department of Energy (DOE)DE-SC0001293
Resnick Sustainability InstituteUNSPECIFIED
NSF Graduate Research FellowshipDGE-1745301
Subject Keywords:Laser propulsion, light sail, optical heterostructures, radiative cooling, Breakthrough Starshot
Issue or Number:9
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20180731-162143543
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Official Citation:Nanophotonic Heterostructures for Efficient Propulsion and Radiative Cooling of Relativistic Light Sails. Ognjen Ilic, Cora M. Went, and Harry A. Atwater. Nano Letters 2018 18 (9), 5583-5589. DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.8b02035
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:88412
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:31 Jul 2018 23:35
Last Modified:16 Nov 2021 00:26

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