Phoning home from 93 billion miles away--only E.T. and other science fiction characters can do that. But with the help of National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) know-how, reality soon may catch up with imagination.
Conceptual designs for a "realistic interstellar explorer," or RISE -- a highly autonomous craft that would travel far beyond this solar system to collect scientific data -- call for a laser-based communications link to Earth that relies in part on a recent NIST invention called a Parallel Cantilever Bi-axial Micro-Positioner. The prototype NIST device acts as a mechanical filter that generates very straight lines by screening out all other motions. Primarily intended for use in the delicate assembly and alignment of optoelectronic devices and applications in micro- and nano-manufacturing, the micro-positioner in a different application offers a promising means for meeting the demanding range, mass and power requirements for the RISE.
In its interstellar role, the micro-positioner would be used to position a lens that steers a laser beam communication link toward Earth. The beam must be pointed precisely because the distances would be, well, astronomical. The RISE is envisioned as having a range up to 1,000 Astronomical Units (AU)--1,000 times the distance from the Earth to the sun, or 93 billion miles.
Laura Ost | EurekAlert!
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