Mentor: Haris Catrakis
This project will explore techniques to defend the earth from the natural threat of space objects, such as asteroids, that could crash on the Earth from outer space. It will also explore the feasibility of using aircraft equipped with laser systems to defend against incoming asteroids. The idea is to launch a laser beam from an aircraft targeting the asteroid in order to eliminate it or deflect it enough so that the collision with the earth is avoided. The research will first focus on evaluating the accuracy of a laser beam launched from feasible aircraft. To target an incoming asteroid located in space, a very high accuracy of the laser beam direction is needed because the asteroid is at large distances from the Earth and is moving very fast. This required accuracy will be evaluated and compared to the accuracy of an airborne laser. Because aircraft generate air turbulence as they fly, any airborne laser beam has to be propagated through aircraft-generated turbulence and this affects the pointing accuracy of the laser beam. These fluid-optical interactions, or aerooptical interactions, reduce the accuracy with which the laser beam can be directed. Because the aerooptical distortions associated with aircraft-launched laser beams are relatively large, the airborne-laser accuracy will likely be much lower than the required accuracy. In order to improve the airborne-laser accuracy, it will be necessary to reduce the aerooptical distortions and this will involve the evaluation of turbulent-flow control techniques and adaptive laser-beam control methods. This research, therefore, will be able to determine what is technologically necessary and practically feasible to improve the airborne laser capability for a successful interception of the asteroid by the laser beam.