Interstellar space travel is still a matter of science fiction. With our current propulsion systems, it would take millennia to really travel on an interstellar level. However, science is now looking towards new propulsion systems to make interstellar reach possible in significantly less time.

One such system is called Photonic Propulsion, and it’s an insanely interesting idea. The video you see above is a quick summary of a talk given by Philip Lubin of University of California Santa Barbara. It’s a two minute selected sampling of a much larger talk, which you can watch in the source link below.

Now, I’m no scientist. In fact, looking at the appendix of the paper produced by Lubin and his peers made my head spin. Enjoy this sample.


Here’s how I basically understand the principle of Photonic Propulsion.

Currently, we use Chemical Propulsion systems for rockets. That is, fuel in either a solid or liquid state is burned for a lot of thrust. This Photonic Propulsion system would essentially use giant Earth lasers to propel the spacecraft through the momentum of photons.

Lubin indicates that particles of light have energy and momentum. When the photons bounce off an object, their momentum is “transferred into a little push.” This is where the thrust in Photonic Propulsion is created. “With a large, reflective sail, it’s possible to generate enough momentum to gradually accelerate a spacecraft.”

According to Lubin, Photonic Propulsion could drive a 100-kg robotic spacecraft to Mars in only three days.

Thanks to the research and theories discussed in Lubin and company’s paper, NASA has offered a proof-of-concept grant. If Photonic Propulsion is as possible and scalable as Lubin suggests, we could be looking at the future of space travel.