On the stability of a space vehicle riding on an intense laser beam

Elena Popova, Messoud Efendiev, Ildar Gabitov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


The Breakthrough Starshot Initiative is suggested to develop the concept of propelling a nanoscale spacecraft by the radiation pressure of an intense laser beam. In this project, the nanocraft is a gram-scale robotic spacecraft comprising two main parts: StarChip and Lightsail. To achieve the goal of the project, it is necessary to solve a number of scientific problems. One of these tasks is to make sure that the nanocraft position and orientation inside the intense laser beam column are stable. The nanocraft driven by intense laser beam pressure acting on its Lightsail is sensitive to the torques and lateral forces reacting on the surface of the sail. These forces influence the orientation and lateral displacement of the spacecraft, thus affecting its dynamics. If unstable, the nanocraft might be expelled from the area of laser beam. In choosing the models for nanocraft stability studies, we are using several assumptions: (i) configuration of nanocraft is treated as a rigid body; (ii) flat or concave shape of circular sail; and (iii) mirror reflection of laser beam from surface of the Lightsail. We found conditions of position stability for spherical and conical shapes of the sail. The simplest stable configurations require the StarChip to be removed from the sail to make the distance to the center of mass of the nanocraft bigger than the curvature radius of the sail. Stability criteria do not require the spinning of the nanocraft. A flat sail is never stable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1346-1354
Number of pages9
JournalMathematical Methods in the Applied Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 15 2017


  • Breakthrough Starshot Initiative
  • Lightsail
  • nanocraft
  • stability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Mathematics
  • General Engineering


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