• Scientists propose the use of laser sails to propel spacecraft
  • The laser sails will rely on the same technology found on compact disks
  • Laser sails could be used to achieve interstellar space travel

A team of scientists released a new study that explored the possibility of achieving interstellar travel using laser and light sail spacecraft. According to the study, this can be made possible using the same technology found on CDs and DVDs.

Currently, interstellar travel for humans is not yet achievable due to the long duration of the voyage that could take thousands of years. In order to travel vast distances across space, a spacecraft needs a lot of fuel. Unfortunately, the mass of propellants can make a spacecraft heavier, which would cause it to consume more fuel.

Recently, a team of scientists proposed a way that could make it possible to travel to another star system faster without using fuel. Their idea is similar to the concept of solar sails, which rely on the light from the Sun to move forward.

Like solar sail vessels, the scientists proposed equipping a spacecraft with a sail that features diffraction gratings. A diffraction grating is a type of surface that’s lined with microscopic slits or ridges that are capable of scattering light that hits them. The most common application of diffraction gratings can be found on the colorful and shiny surface of CDs and DVDs.

“If you've ever examined the beautiful play of light from a compact disk, you will have seen the effects of diffraction,” Grover Swartzlander, an optical physicist at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and lead author of the study told

According to the scientist, hitting a sail with diffraction gratings with laser beams from Earth could propel a vessel across space. Since the ridges of diffraction gratings can scatter light by making the different wavelengths travel in multiple directions, they can be used to ensure that the sail stays aligned with the laser.

In addition, since the light is scattered by diffraction gratings at various angles, they can be used to steer the sail sideways. For the authors of the study, the concept of a laser sail could serve as an efficient replacement of fuel-based propellants.

The study conducted by the scientists was published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Scientists are working on a spaceship concept that would use a laser light beamed from Earth to propel a ship with a lightsail. Breakthrough Starshot