Beamed-energy propulsion could radically reduce the cost of space access. It’s the stuff of science fiction—only that advances in technology make it now possible to build. Working with a team of Caltech and MIT scientists on building this future is what I set out to do, and our R&D effort brought beamed energy propulsion onto the NASA Technology Roadmap.
In recognition for our team’s work in significantly advancing the state-of-the-art for beamed energy technology, Escape Dynamics, Inc. (EDI) was featured on the cover of Aviation Week Magazine, named as the “#3 Most Innovative Space Company” by Fast Company (behind SpaceX and Blue Origin), and named as one of the “2015 Top 10 Most Innovative Space Technologies” by Scientific American.
EDI’s external propulsion launch system relies on wireless energy transfer to deliver power to the launch vehicle as it ascends into orbit. Microwave energy is beamed from a terrestrial phased array of antennas which tracks the launch vehicle through the ascent trajectory. The microwave energy is absorbed by a ceramic matrix composite (CMC) heat exchanger on the belly of the vehicle, transferred to a flow of hydrogen propellant which is exhausted through a nozzle on the back of the vehicle generating highly efficient, combustion-free thrust.
EDI’s Colorado-based lab served as home for our R&D efforts, machining, and indoors testing areas.
Science & Technology
Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky is famed for “the rocket equation,” the essential theory that has formed the foundation of the first half century of space exploration. But in The Spaceship, published in 1924, he proposed that the most efficient manner of going into space would not be to use chemical propulsion, as we do now, but rather to beam energy — electromagnetic rays of short wavelength — to a spacecraft. Key technological breakthroughs including gyrotron technology, the advent of phased arrays, the Marx Modulator, and ceramic matrix composites have been critical components in the development of this system. While further technological advancements are still necessary, this radical vision, first proposed nearly a century ago, could soon become the launch system of the future.