My previous post "Using nuclear bombs to detect near earth orbit objects" asked about using nuclear devices to detect Earth directed asteroids and low albedo comets. Now I want to explore a method of deflecting them using lasers.

Assume we can, by (light, x or gamma rays), actually detect the incoming object on a timescale long enough to attempt to deflect it successfully.

Also assume that the NEO does not simply absorb the radation, as a comet might.

I don't need much (or anything really) in the answer by way of calculations, my question is simply:

Is it in principle possible to convert the energy of a nuclear blast, at any appreciable efficiency level, into the production of an intense laser beam?

This intense beam may then be directed at the NEO, possibly producing a deflection in it's path towards Earth.

I acknowledge that this process may be considered impossible, as placing delicate equipment near a nuclear blast is generally not recommended for the completion of any project.

But in defence of the merits of the question, two points:

As far as I remember, the base of the tower used in the Trinity device in New Mexico did not undergo as much damage as was originally expected.

The Project Orion spaceship design of the early 1960's proposed using very small nuclear devices. The calculations involved indicated that the vehicle would not be damaged by the estimated number ( in the order of hundreds) of nuclear blasts required to achieve orbit.

To sum up my question, can the radiation output of a nuclear device be used, even in principle, as the power source for a laser beam (the laser beam being tuned to whatever frequency is deemed most efficient for deflection purposes.)

  • $\begingroup$ See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_pumped_laser but I don't know any details $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ @SteveB Hi steve first thanks for the quick reply and second (and no conspiracy angle to this :) I'd put good money on a gamble that a lot of classified reseach has been done on this. Just be good to see that research applied to a potentially lethal problem (no matter how remote the probability)..all the best $\endgroup$
    – user74893
    Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ I'm fairly confident that a laser could not deflect an asteroid or other such object. And, while it is theoretically possible to power a laser with a nuclear bomb, I'm not sure why you'd want to. There are much safer and more effective ways of powering a laser. Anything powered by a nuke would have a high intensity and short duration effect. For deflecting a NEO, you essentially need to provide such a large acceleration in the short time that it would simply break apart. A nuclear reactor would be more effective in virtually every way. $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Jimnosperm Anything powered by a nuke would have a high intensity and short duration effect that's a 100 percent valid point and pretty much answers the question thanks $\endgroup$
    – user74893
    Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 17:55
  • $\begingroup$ May I suggest an alternative, solar-powered chemical lasers? I think they have originally been conceived as a possible power link between space-based solar farms and a power receiver on earth, but who knows, maybe the idea works for some alternative purpose or other as well... I can't find a link right away, but wikipedia's solar-pumped laser entry may get you started anyways. $\endgroup$
    – user73762
    Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 19:17

1 Answer 1


Project Excalibur The idea of a nuclear pumped X-ray laser was one which was investigated in detail in the Reagan "Star Wars" program of the 1980s, backed by one Edward Teller. Tests were carried out by surrounding the nuke with bundles of rods to create a one-pass laser. Apparently it was nowhere near efficient enough to be used in a military context. [That latter fact was reported at the time but is not mentioned in the wiki article]

  • $\begingroup$ Additional information, mainly from memory, so this should not appear in the answer. IIRC the effectiveness of the tests fell short of expectations/hopes by around 6 orders of magnitude. $\endgroup$
    – user56903
    Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ They were looking for TeraJoule output and got MegaJoule. $\endgroup$
    – user56903
    Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ Hi, even without looking up wikipedia, I don't know why I immediately started thinking of Dr. Strangelove as soon as I saw your answer...I really don't........:) i'm not sure what's scarier, impact with an asteroid or some of the "good" Doctor's ideas thanks for your answer $\endgroup$
    – user74893
    Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 21:16
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    $\begingroup$ @DirkBruere I seem to recall from the time that this project was the one where SDI bigwigs made a press statement to the effect of "we're halfway there" on learning that the power output was $10^6$ rather than $10^{12}$ joules. Well, 6 is half of twelve after all, what's a logarithm between friends? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 4:01
  • $\begingroup$ Yes - I remember that quote as well about "being halfway there" $\endgroup$
    – user56903
    Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 8:41

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