New directed energy propulsion systems may enable the first interstellar missions, with small, robotic spacecraft exploring neighboring solar systems, according to experimental cosmologist Philip Lubin. He will present these and other advances at The Optical Society's (OSA) Laser Congress, Light the Future Speaker Series, 4-8 Nov. in Boston.

Imagine a wafer-thin spacecraft powered by laser light capable of speeds greater than one quarter the speed of light—fast enough to reach the closest neighboring star to our solar system within 20 years, or something closer to home, like getting people to Mars in a month. By tapping into photonics-driven propulsion, researchers are well on their way to making this seemingly impossible science-fiction achievement a reality, said Lubin, who is a professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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