Experimental characterization of the thrust induced by laser ablation on an asteroid

Alison Gibbings, Massimiliano Vasile, John-Mark Hopkins, David Burns, Ian A. Watson

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This paper presents an improved laser ablation model and compares the performance – Δv and mass efficiency - of laser ablation against contactless deflection methods based on ion-propulsion. The deflection of an asteroid through laser ablation is achieved by illuminating the surface of the asteroid with a high intensity laser light. The absorbed energy induces the sublimation of the surface material and the generation of a plume of gas and ejecta. Similar to a rocket engine, the flow of expelled material produces a continuous and controllable thrust that could be used to modify the trajectory and tumbling motion of the asteroid. Recent results gained from a series of laser ablation experiments were used to improve the sublimation and deflection models. In each experiment a terrestrial olivine sample was ablated, under vacuum, with a 90 W continuous wave laser. The outcomes of the experimental campaign have enabled the mathematic model, and its defining assumptions to be evaluated and updated
Original languageEnglish
PagesIAA PDC13-04-21
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2013
EventIAA Planetary Defense Conference - Flagstaff, United States
Duration: 15 Apr 201319 May 2013


ConferenceIAA Planetary Defense Conference
CountryUnited States



  • experimental characterization
  • thrust induced
  • laser ablation
  • asteroid

Cite this

Gibbings, A., Vasile, M., Hopkins, J-M., Burns, D., & Watson, I. A. (2013). Experimental characterization of the thrust induced by laser ablation on an asteroid. IAA PDC13-04-21. Paper presented at IAA Planetary Defense Conference, Flagstaff, United States.