In a case of life imitating art, NASA is trying to develop a tractor beam.
Researchers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center have received funding for a project to see if lasers can be used to capture stardust. The tests will be conducted on robotic space missions.
“Though a mainstay in science fiction, and Star Trek in particular, laser-based trapping isn’t fanciful or beyond current technological know-how,” said Paul Stysley, a laser engineer at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
The original thought was for a tractor beam that did a little more, but reality soon intruded. “The original thought was that we could use tractor beams for cleaning up orbital debris,” Stysley added. “But to pull something that huge would be almost impossible, at least now. That’s when it bubbled up that perhaps we could use the same approach for sample collection.”
Two types of beams, solenoid beams and Bessle beams are being studied. Thus far, tests using the solenoid beams have proven to be the most successful.