It is well known that light can push on objects – this is the basis for using solar sails to propel a spacecraft. But getting light to pull on something is a bit trickier.
The new tractor beam might be useful for collecting small dust or atmosphere samples from other worlds and delivering the particles to a robot for analysis.
“NASA contacted us,” says Ruffner. “They were wondering, can we put this on a space probe and get dust from a comet?” It is possible, he says, but not any time soon. “This is still very much in its infancy.”
On the one hand, science fiction looks more like science fact with each passing day. On the other, anyone in the 1970s and 1980s would have predicted that we’d already have achieved much cooler stuff than even tractor beams by the time the second decade of the new millennium came along!
But… this is way too cool. 🙂 I think this is the second big usage of photons for thrust, after solar sails, right?