Light Speed… almost.


…Which is one hell of an improvement over where we are right now, in terms of interstellar travel. Sure, I can write books where FTL drives are in common use, and waves of colonists populate a distant human diaspora, but as of now, the laws of physics still apply and my fiction is still fiction.

But it IS possible, given our current technology, to travel at speeds nearing the speed of light. However, no-one has yet come up with a near light-speed drive that could actually be used.

So it was with great interest that I spotted a news article on Fox News, of all places, about a NASA scientist who has theoretically created a near light-speed drive that uses no fuel. Wow. Here’s another link to check out, it goes to a NASA page and there’s an illustrated PDF to look up as well. Seriously cool.

Here is the paper’s abstract, by David Burns, which sums up how this works. It’s much more elegant than any description I could come up with.

“A new concept for in-space propulsion is proposed in which propellant is not ejected from the engine, but instead is captured to create a nearly infinite specific impulse. The engine accelerates ions confined in a loop to moderate relativistic speeds, and then varies their velocity to make slight changes to their mass. The engine then moves ions back and forth along the direction of travel to produce thrust. This in-space engine could be used for long-term satellite station-keeping without refueling. It could also propel spacecraft across interstellar distances, reaching close to the speed of light. The engine has no moving parts other than ions traveling in a vacuum line, trapped inside electric and magnetic fields.”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. This is a seriously exciting time to observe human exploration in space. If this concept pans out, it realistically opens up interstellar travel for human exploration.

Yeah, you’d have to figure out putting people in hibernation, or sending robot probes, but ¬†systems such as Trappist-1 could be reached within a person’s lifespan.

Right now, we can’t do it.

But maybe soon, we can.

2 thoughts on “Light Speed… almost.

  1. Even the term life span is changing. Living in a sterile environment, no pollution, no war, good food, minimal stress, well monitored, a life span could be redefined in space.


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