Table of contents:
The Breakthrough Starshot project aims to accelerate solar sail spacecraft up to one fifth of the speed of light, about 134 million miles per hour.
If as a species we are to take space travel seriously we need to up our game! At the moment our space travel engines are abysmal, it takes way too long to get anywhere and it costs far too much. Future space travel engines need to be more efficient and provide a heck of allot more propulsion. Some believe that the future of space travel engines are nuclear powered, but this is way into the future and is a risky technology to be playing around with. However this is not an article about all the possible future space travel engines we will never see in our lifetimes, I do in fact bare good news for space enthusiasts though.
The age of chemical rockets is coming to an end, it is likely they will still play their part when blasting objects out of the Earth's atmosphere but once in space there are numerous cheaper options for moving spacecraft. One such future space travel engine is the solar electric propulsion engine. They capture energy from the sun using solar arrays to generate electricity, this is then used to power an engine that creates thrust. Read more on solar electric propultion engines.
Using plasma to move spaceships, I know it sounds like some notion from a fictional futuristic movie. However it is real and it has actually been around for longer than some of you might think. Hall effect thrusters are one type of plasma propulsion engine and early versions of these were actually produced by the Soviet Union in the 1970s. If this is the case then why am I including it as a future space travel engine? Well, work is ongoing with the development of plasma propulsion engines, in the near'ish' future the VASIMR engine could be ferrying people and cargo to Mars in under 39 days. Read more on plasma propultion engines.
Wind blows against the sails of boats accelerating them across bodies of water, did you know that light can accelerate spacecraft with sails in space? Photons make up light and they travel at the speed of light, huge ultra thin sails on spacecraft can capture their momentum and provide acceleration to an object in frictionless space, this force is called radiation pressure. This technology has been proved already in space and rocket scientists have to take into account radiation pressure in their calculations. As a future space travel engine of sorts, solar sails are expected to take probes to another solar system that is 4 light years away, and it will only take them 20 years to get there. Read more on solar sails.
Future Space Travel Engines - The Conclusion
Space is about to get allot more accessible and these technologies will inevitably lead onto even better ones. We are living in exciting times for space geeks, suddenly colonising other planets does not seem like a crazy idea, even colonising other solar systems is becoming more realistic and this all begins with us being able to get there in a reasonable amount of time. Improved future space travel engines will continue to unlock possibilities in space, many of the world's richest are funding the space race 2.0 and from that we can only benefit.
Did you enjoy this article why not read more about the Benefits of Space Exploration to see how these future space engines could be put to use?
- Dunbar, Brian (2017).Solar Electric Propulsion. Retrieved from NASA.
- Li, Gary (2016).Traveling to Mars with Immortal Plasma Rockets. Retrieved from Phys.org
- Defusco et al (2017).Space Travel Aided By Plasma Thrusters. Retrieved from DSIAC.
- Breakthrough Initiatives (2017).Starshot. Retrieved from Breakthrough Initiatives.
- Harbaugh, Jennifer (2017).NASA Tests Solar Sail Deployment for Asteroid-Surveying CubeSat NEA Scout. Retrieved from NASA.