The Once and Future Kepler Mission / Directed Energy Planetary Defense

August 26, 2013, 5:30pm to 7:30pm at UC San Diego's Atkinson Hall Auditorium


Free to the public | Light refreshments served from 5:30 to 6:00 | No food or drinks in auditorium | RSVP info@imagination.ucsd.edu

You may park in lot P502, which is on Voigt Drive across the street from Atkinson Hail; however, you must have a parking permit to do so, and the closest parking permit machine is at the Hopkins parking structure. Please buy a permit first. They cost $4 after 4:30 PM.

The Once and Future Kepler Mission

Kepler vaulted into the heavens on March 7, 2009, initiating NASA’s search for Earth-size planets orbiting Sun-like stars in the habitable zone, where liquid water could exist on the planetary surface and support alien biology. In the 4 years since Kepler began science operations, a flood of photometric data on upwards of 190,000 stars of unprecedented precision and continuity has provoked a watershed of 135 confirmed or validated planets, 3500+ planetary candidates (most sub-Neptune in size and many comparable to or smaller than Earth) and a resounding revolution in our understanding of the behavior of stars. The most recent discoveries include Kepler-62 with 5 planets total of which 2 are in the habitable zone, and are 1.4 and 1.7 times the radius of the Earth. Dr. Jenkins will highlight key science results from Kepler, and will also discuss the daunting challenges that faced the technical and scientific team as they designed, built and are now operating this amazing observatory. He will also give a brief overview of TESS, NASA’s next mission to detect Earth’s closest cousins.


Jon Jenkins is a Senior Scientist for the SETI Institute (www.seti.org) at NASA Ames Research Center where he conducts research on data processing and detection algorithms for discovering transiting extrasolar planets. He is the Co-Investigator for Data Analysis for NASA Discovery Program’s Kepler Mission (kepler.nasa.gov). Dr. Jenkins developed the science processing pipeline for Kepler. Dr. Jenkins received both NASA’s Exceptional Technology Achievement Medal and NASA’s prestigious Software of the Year Award in 2010 for his work on Kepler. Dr. Jenkins is Co-I for data Processing of NASA’s newly selected TESS mission which will perform an all-sky transit survey to identify the closest and best Earth-size and super-Earth-size planets for follow up and characterization. Dr. Jenkins received his Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering, his Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Mathematics, his Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering and his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia.

Directed Energy Planetary Defense

Abstract: Recent advances in photonics now allow a serious discussion of what was , until recently, simply science fiction. DE-STAR is a proposed directed energy (DE) orbital planetary defense system capable of heating the surface of potentially hazardous objects to the evaporation point as a futuristic but feasible approach to protecting the Earth. DE-STAR, for Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids and exploRation, is a modular phased array of solid state high efficiency lasers, powered by the sun. Modular design allows for incremental development, test and deployment, lowering cost, minimizing risk and allowing for technological co-development, leading eventually to an orbiting structure that could be erected in stages. The main objective of DE-STAR would be to use the focused directed energy to raise the surface spot temperature to ~ 3000K, allowing direct evaporation of all known substances. The heated surface not only directly evaporates the asteroid over time but also creates a large reaction force to alter the asteroid’s orbit. A baseline system is a DE-STAR 4 (10km sized array) system which allows for asteroid engagement starting beyond 1AU with a spot temperature sufficient to protect the Earth from all known threats. Such a system can directly evaporate up to 500m diameter asteroids in one year. Smaller asteroids such as DA-14 could be completely evaporated in a few hours and the recent Chelyabinsk asteroid in less than one hour. It will also produce a reaction thrust comparable to the Shuttle SRB on the asteroid due to mass ejection and thus allow for orbital diversion of all known threatening asteroids even large ones, beyond several km in diameter. Smaller DE-STAR systems are also extremely useful. For example, a DE-STAR 2 (100m size array) would be capable of diverting volatile-laden objects 100m in diameter by initiating engagement at ~0.01-0.5AU. Smaller objects could be diverted on shorter notice. The phased array configuration is capable of creating multiple beams, so a single DE-STAR of sufficient size could engage several threats simultaneously, such as a Shoemaker-Levy 9 scenario on Earth. An orbiting DE-STAR would also be capable a wide variety of other functions. Narrow bandwidth and precision beam control would aid narrow search and ephemeris refinement of objects identified with wide-field surveys. Propulsion of kinetic or nuclear tipped asteroid interceptors or other interplanetary spacecraft is possible using a “photon rail gun” mode from direct photon pressure on a spacecraft propelling a 100 kg craft to 1AU in 3 days and a 10,000 kg craft to 1AU in 30 days. More advanced systems are capable of relativistic transport of spacecraft and allow us to begin a discussion of interstellar capability. A DE-STAR could also provide power to ion propulsion systems, providing both a means of acceleration on the outbound leg, and deceleration for orbit insertion by rotating the spacecraft and using mirrors to divert the DE-STAR beam into the ion generation cavity. Vaporization and de-orbiting of space debris in low Earth orbit is a significant problem and mitigation of this could be accomplished with a small DE-STAR 1 or 2 system. DE-STAR 3 and 4 arrays may allow standoff interrogation of asteroid composition by observing absorption lines in the blackbody spectrum of a vaporizing surface spot. There are a number of other applications as well including sending power to the ground via microwave, millimeter wave or IR. Ultra high speed long range data communications is also enabled by such a system with both interplanetary and even interstellar links being possible (modulo the time delay - hence half duplex). For example, all the recently discovered Kepler planets (typically at distances of 1000 ly) would easily detect such a system if pointed directly at them appearing as the brightest star in the sky. This brings up the question of near IR searches and beacons for SETI applications. Long range beamed power application allow for distant spacecraft to be powered as well as the possibility of interplanetary scale "machining" if desired. We will discuss the recent technological advances that make such a system possible and short term prospects for incremental deployment as well as discuss a long term roadmap and present recent laboratory scale testing.


Philip Lubin is a professor of Physics at UC Santa Barbara whose primary research has been focused on studies of the early universe in the millimeter wavelengths bands. His group has designed, developed and fielded more than two dozen ground based and balloon borne missions and helped develop two major cosmology satellites. Among other accomplishments his group first detected the horizon scale fluctuations in the Cosmic Microwave Background from both their South Pole and balloon borne systems twenty years ago and their latest results, along with an international teams of ESA and NASA researchers, are from the Planck cosmology mission which mapped in exquisite detail the structures of the early universe released in March of this year. He is co-recipient of the 2006 Gruber Prize in Cosmology along with the COBE science team for their groundbreaking work in cosmology. He has published more than 200 articles.