The work conducted on laser propulsion at the Institute of Technical Physics includes the study of pulsed thermal laser propulsion with stationary high-power laser sources, as well as the development and qualification of laser ablation micropropulsion thrusters.
With laser ablation micropropulsion, the (compact) laser source is located directly in the propulsion system. The thrust is generated by the recoil of the ablated propellant.
To generate highly accurate impulse bits, the focus are metal propellants from aluminium to gold, yield a high specific impulse.
A test bed with various solid-state lasers is available for experimental research. The experiments are supported and complemented by theoretical modelling of the propulsion process. The investigations in a vacuum include measurements on a highly sensitive thrust balance as well as analyses on the propagation characteristics of the ablation jets. The inertia-free guidance of the laser beam onto the target surface by means of active optical systems is crucial for the integration of the concept in a perturbation-free overall system. To ensure the permanence of the system for future missions, long-term measurements are also essential for consistently reproducible performance.