Laser Tractor beams have the ability to trap and move objects using laser light. A team of NASA scientists has won funding to study the Laser Tractor beams concept for remotely capturing planetary or atmospheric particles and delivering them to a robotic rover or orbiting spacecraft for analysis. NASA had originally been investigating “tractor beam” technology as a way to clean up the space junk in Earth’s orbit that poses a problem for orbiting satellites and spacecraft.

Laser Tractor Beams move Objects - Reaserch By NASACurrently, NASA uses a variety of techniques to collect extraterrestrial samples. These techniques have proven to be largely successful, but they are limited by high costs and limited range and sample rate. An optical–trapping system, on the other hand, could grab desired molecules from the upper atmosphere on an orbiting spacecraft or trap them from the ground or lower atmosphere from a lander. In other words, they could continuously and remotely capture particles over a longer period of time, which would enhance science goals and reduce mission risk.

NASA’s 3 Approaches to Study Laser Tractor Beams

Laser Tractor Beam Type I – Optical Vortex or Optical Tweezers:- This method involves the use of two counter-propagating beams of light. The resulting ring-like geometry confines particles to the dark core of the overlapping beams. By alternately strengthening or weakening the intensity of one of the light beams in effect heating the air around the trapped particle, researchers have shown in laboratory testing that they can move the particle along the ring’s center. This technique, however, requires the presence of an atmosphere.

Laser Tractor Beam Type II – Optical Solenoid Beams:- Optical Solenoid Beams are those whose intensity peaks spiral around the axis of propagation. Testing has shown that the approach can trap and exert a force that drives particles in the opposite direction of the light-beam source. In other words, the particulate matter is pulled back along the entire beam of light. Unlike the optical vortex method, this technique relies solely on electromagnetic effects and could operate in a space vacuum, making it ideal for studying the composition of materials on one of the airless planetary moons, for example.

Laser Tractor Beam Type III – Bessel Beam:- Unlike first 2 types, Bessel Beam has never been demonstrated in the laboratory. Normal laser beams when shined against a wall appear as a small point. With Bessel beams, however, rings of light surround the central dot. In other words, when seen straight on, the Bessel beam looks like the ripples surrounding a pebble dropped in a pond. According to theory, the laser beam could induce electric and magnetic fields in the path of an object. The spray of light scattered forward by these fields could pull the object backward, against the movement of the beam itself.