The ability of a traveling periodic optical potential to increase the thrust and specific impulse of microthrusters is investigated. Two flow regimes, high density and low density, are considered. The thrust from a micronozzle, with a stagnation pressure of 1 atm and temperature of 300 K, can be increased by more than an order of magnitude. These conditions can be achieved for a constant velocity lattice, produced by two near counterpropagating optical fields that are focused into the nozzle throat. A propulsion system that operates in low-density regime and is driven by molecules trapped by an accelerating optical lattice is proposed. It is shown that such a system has a potential to achieve a specific impulse of thousands of seconds. © 2006 American Institute of Physics.