Alternative Propulsion Systems - Pushing For Lightspeed!!

in technology •  2 years ago  (edited)


Getting Moving.

Something that has always interested me is moving through space, and if we're going on a journey of interstellar distances, well, we better be doing it at pace unless you want to spend tens of thousands of years getting there. Nothing in this universe (as far as we know so far) goes faster than light, so let's look at how we can get there. Or even bend space around us to push past those limitations.

It seems rather silly to go for high speed with no method of slowing down again, so let's cover that for a moment before diving into hitting the 'Go Baby Go' button.

There are a number of methods to slow down a space craft, and here are a couple for you.

  • Aerobraking - using interstellar dust and debris or atmospheric interaction to create friction against the craft, reducing its speed. You could even use solar wind to brake your craft with a reversed solar sail. Or within an atmosphere by deploying parachutes or balloons to slow you down. Even a heat-shield can be considered an aerobrake as it uses friction from the air to slow you down and keep your craft safe from the elevated temperatures.

  • Lithobraking - essentially running into the ground, this is generally used as a last method of braking as you meet the ground, ensuring you have a strong enough craft and bodies able to resist the impact is required.

  • Retrothrusters - either by turning your craft around and using your main thrusters to apply reverse thrust, or by carrying thrusters mounted in the opposing direction of your craft to slow you down. This is a rather traditional method of scrubbing off speed.

Now that we have discussed a few methods of slowing down, let's look at going fast! (My favorite bit).

Nuclear Power!!

In a nuclear thermal rocket a working fluid, usually liquid hydrogen, is heated to a high temperature by a nuclear reactor, and then expands through the rocket nozzle to create thrust.

In this kind of thermal rocket, the nuclear reactor's energy replaces the chemical energy of the propellant in a traditional rocket.

The thermal heater / inert propellant compared to the reactive propellants of a traditional rocket produces a superior exhaust velocity, and therefore has a higher efficiency, with specific impulses up to twice that of chemical engines.

The overall lift-off mass of a nuclear rocket is about half that of a chemical rocket, and when used as an upper stage it roughly doubles or triples the payload carried to orbit.

This means less propellant and engine mass required and more payload. Good if we are going on a long journey. A engine such as is envisaged above could reach speeds of up to 6,700 m/s given current technology.

Ion Drives and Plasma Thrust.

VASIMR, which is an Electro-thermal Magneto-plasma Rocket, uses radio waves to excite and heat the propellant, which is then accelerated with magnetic fields to generate thrust.

It has been described as an electrodeless version of an arcjet rocket that can reach higher propellant temperature and therefore efficiency and velocity by limiting the heat transfer from the plasma to the structure of the engine.

Both types of engine have no electrodes. This eliminates the erosion that shortens the life of other ion thruster designs. Since every part of a VASIMR engine is magnetically shielded and does not directly contact plasma. So the durability of this particular engine will be greater than many other ion/plasma engines.

Why have the ability to go fast if you cannot sustain it for a decent duration? We have a need to spread across the stars, and journeys take a very long time. So better have an engine that lasts the trip!

Pushing Light?

A laser-pushed lightsail is a thin reflective sail similar to a solar sail, where the sail is being pushed by a laser, rather than the sun. This could be achieved by ground based or orbital platforms.

The advantage of lightsail propulsion is that the vehicle does not carry either the energy source or the reaction mass for propulsion, and so the limitations of the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation to achieving high velocities are avoided.

Use of a laser-pushed lightsail was proposed as a method of Interstellar travel that would avoid extremely high mass ratios by not carrying fuel. Allowing massive payloads for those long distance hops.

Light On board.

A photonic laser thruster is a concept for space propulsion that works on the principle of a photon-pushed sail, generating thrust directly from the momentum of a photon by use of a mirror reflected laser.

The concept, differs from other solar sail and laser propulsion concepts in that an amplification process is used, in which the beam is re-used by being reflected from a stationary mirror, with an amplification at each reflection.

Because of the recycling of energy, the photonic laser thruster is claimed to be more efficient than other laser-pushed sail concepts.

The practical usage of the photonic laser thruster for space propulsion would require high laser powers and overcoming technological challenges in achieving the laser power and fabricating the required optics for adjusting the focus and aiming of the beam over the duration of the trip.

Photonic laser thrusters have a very high specific impulse, and can permit spacecraft to reach much higher speeds that approach a high fraction of the speed of light than with conventional rockets which are limited in comparison.

Stuffing The Ram.

The Bussard ramjet is a theoretical method of spacecraft propulsion proposed by the physicist Robert W. Bussard.

He proposed a ramjet variant of a fusion rocket capable of reasonable interstellar travel, using enormous electromagnetic fields as a ram scoop to collect and compress hydrogen from the interstellar medium.

High speeds force the reactive mass into a progressively constricted magnetic field, compressing it until thermonuclear fusion occurs. The magnetic field then directs the energy as rocket exhaust in the intended direction of travel, accelerating the vessel.

One could even theoretically do a low level flyby of a solar body or a atmosphere that is fusible and scrape a portion of the fuel from the surface. By collecting your fuel as you travel, this allows for very long duration's of rocket burn, allowing for very high payloads and long distances traveled.

Capturing Black Holes?

A black hole starship is a theoretical idea for enabling interstellar travel by propelling a starship using a black hole as the energy source.

The concept was first discussed in science fiction, notably in the book Imperial Earth by Arthur C. Clarke, and in the work of Charles Sheffield, in which energy extracted from a black hole is described as powering the rockets engines.

In a more detailed analysis, a proposal to create an artificial black hole and using a parabolic reflector to reflect its Hawking radiation has been discussed in 2009 by Louis Crane and Shawn Westmoreland.

Their conclusion was that it was on the edge of possibility, but that quantum gravity effects that are presently unknown will either make it easier, or make it impossible.

Anti-matter - Big Booms?!

An antimatter rocket is a proposed class of rockets that use antimatter as their power source. There are several designs that attempt to accomplish this.

The advantage to this class of rocket is that a large fraction of the rest mass of a matter/antimatter mixture may be converted to energy, allowing antimatter rockets to have a far higher energy density and specific impulse than any other proposed class of rocket.

Antimatter rockets can be divided into three types of application: those that directly use the products of antimatter annihilation for propulsion. Those that heat a working fluid or an intermediate material which is then used for propulsion. And those that heat a working fluid to generate electricity for electric spacecraft propulsion. Similar to water in traditional nuclear reactors or molten salt/steam in some high output solar farms.

The alternatives to direct antimatter annihilation propulsion offer the possibility of vehicles with vastly smaller amounts of antimatter but require a lot more matter propellant. There are also hybrid solutions using antimatter to catalyze fission/fusion reactions for propulsion.

Due to the matter/antimatter reaction utilizing close to 100% of the energy stored in the propellant for output, it allows for speeds previously unheard of and efficiencies that are absolutely mind blowing. Perfect for traveling between the stars.

Prepare for Warpspeed!!

The Alcubierre drive or Alcubierre warp drive is a speculative idea based on a solution of Einstein's field equations in general relativity as proposed by theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre.

Alcubierre theorized that a spacecraft could achieve apparent faster-than-light travel if a energy-density field lower than that of vacuum (that is, negative mass) could be created.

Rather than exceeding the speed of light within space itself, a spacecraft would traverse distances by contracting space in front of it and expanding space behind it, resulting in effective faster-than-light travel.

Objects cannot accelerate to the speed of light within normal spacetime. So instead, the Alcubierre drive shifts space around a craft so that it would arrive at its destination faster than light would in normal space without breaking any physical laws.

The proposed mechanism of the Alcubierre drive implies a negative energy density and therefore requires exotic matter. So if exotic matter with the correct properties can not exist, then the drive could not be constructed.

However, at the close of his original article Alcubierre argued that the Casimir vacuum between parallel plates could fulfill the negative-energy requirement for the Alcubierre drive vastly reducing the energy requirements and the need for exotic materials.

All of the above methods of propulsion will accelerate a craft close to or beyond the speed of light, far faster than conventional rocketry, I hope you enjoyed the topic at hand today and I thank you for your time spent dearest readers. If you would like to hear more perhaps we can dip into wormholes at a later date, let me know in the comments below. Much love. <3

Sources for this article include, Nuclear thermal rocket here, VASIMR concept rocket here, Alcubierre drive here, Laser propulsion here, Photonic laser thruster here, Black hole power here, Antimatter rocket here, Black hole power here and the Bussard ramjet here.


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wow! really interesting point of view :)

lets support eachother @sammosk:). follow me @maninjapan1989. upvoted and followed! also get followers for free [email protected], remember to share the info with other people!

Great post , thanks for sharing.

To the moon! (actually to mars).
Musk says 1 million people will live on mars in 30 years.


unbelievable! Exciting times. Would you like to be one of them? I am not sure if I would.

Dude, that's a lot of info! Are you a sci fi/fantasy reader, by chance?

Yes, yes I am. Dune was one of my favorites.

The Dune series was a pan-galactic epic spanning millennia and many social/political/spiritual attributes of sentience. I can't even begin to say anything about it that wouldn't run into several paragraphs.

All hail Leto Atreides II, tyrant God Emperor, immortal hybrid, Shai-hulud; may his passing cleanse the way.


Very interesting article!
I think that the concept of folding space may end up being the best way to jump across the vast distances in this galaxy. Of course, at this point in time, no one has any idea of how to fold space, and I think most people think it's impossible, but folding space between large gravity wells is a concept worth applying serious thought to. It will require a much deeper understanding of gravity than humans now possess, and energy sources that are still theoretical.

Indeed, let's capture a black hole and drag it along and make some wormhole action.

Only issue is the whole how to enter without getting torn apart. D:

Yes, that is a problem with using a wormhole.

Fascinating and mind-boggling. I'm curious about the dangers inherent in some of these methods. I know that nuclear energy has some concerns for the crews, as they are already exposed to radiation in space in addition to possibly being exposed to more radiation from their fuel sources.

Oh yes for sure, I was looking at more the advantages of each over the disadvantages. Thanks for the comment and support!! <3

Absolutely! You are a great member of the steemit community and you deserve it ❤

Cool, I can't imagine going out in space, and definitely not in a very high speed, LOL. I prefer to have the earth under my feets, and a low speed. The slowing down section might be more in my area then... But I'm still fascinated by these powers and the possibility to do such things. Entertaining post:-)

I'm glad you enjoyed it, I always had a need for speed and what's faster than lightspeed!!!

I know many people that love speed! I wish I did :D

maybe you would love bicycle speed :)

It feels fast from one if you can get it up to 85 or 90 kms (50 mph)

I have been bicycling in the Alps, only up and down small hills though... And the speed on the way down is not really my cup of tea:D My brakes started to get a burned smell so I had to sit down and rest for a while. But I do love bicycling:)

yes, one has to learn not to brake


it's worth it

I actually understand what you mean, it's a great way to live life!

Wow, this is one well written post!
Upvoted of course!

Space and anything that goes with it kinda always scares me but in a good way. I can dream for hours on end while I travel in space and find new places to explore...

I always had a thing for nebulae and blackholes, the extremes of space held much allure to me. Supernova, the cycles of stars. All the fun stuff.

Thanks for taking the time to take a look, much loves. <3

Upvoted and RESTEEMED!

Upboated your upboate comment!

I love thinking about space travel and theoretical ways to overcome the velocity issues. One other thing that can be done is to slingshot vessels to higher speeds by using spacial orbits around planets and stars.

Wormholes. Yes.

Yeah gravity slings are pretty awesome and can be used to slow us down as well, they are not so much a means of direct propulsion and so I didn't cover them in this post. :)

Thanks for supporting and commenting, much love. <3

I gave this post 2 reads as its packed with peachyness and also did a few searches on a few of the terms you used in this post but wow, I had no idear that there was all this technology and ideology for space travel. I knew about nuclear power and chemical power but the rest is all relatively new to me... very nicely written with a nice easy reading style (on par with most your work :) ) and full of info for those of us out here who like to read interesting things.
I remember last year they retired all the space shuttles in favor or new technology... what are your thoughts there?
Also what are your thoughts on Elon Musks new idea of creating a "tube" up to the ISS for human travel? (little off topic per post but space related)

There have been many arguments about the possibility of accelerating a given mass even close to C, Causality, the universal handbrake applying to the rate at which one thing can act upon another, be it process or state. Causality is the perhaps the only limiting factor on the maximum speed light can travel.

The energy needed to accelerate a particle with mass grows super-quadratically when the speed is close to c, and is ∞ when it is c, meaning all the energy contained in the Milky Way wouldn't be enough to move any useful mass to 90% c.

Unless Special Relativity is incomplete or wrong, which it may be, or we're looking at the problem from the wrong or a limited angle, which we probably are, or there's a lot more to the fabric of the universe than our young ape-genome + marginal-genetic-anomaly brains yet fathom, which is definitely the case.

Laws are meant to be broken, eventually we will figure out a way to push through the limitations of the current systems.

Borrow some energy from the future? wormhole it up? space time bubbles? It's going to be fun times. :)

When I was a kid and learned how plane wings created pressure differential I thought it'd be cool if that same principle could be applied to space-time to create a + & - gravity well or similar that could propel or slide a craft through space.

Later I encountered Alcubierre speculations and thought "Yeah, nice" :)

Thanks for posting this article, it's a stimulating discussion topic.

I am working on an OVERUNITY GENERATOR, which would go a long way towards light speeds for spacecraft ;)

Bahahahahahaha nope

Sure it would! Producing massive amounts of energy, by tapping the Aether, to power a Warp Drive or similar non-mass ejecting propulsion system :D Gotta think outside the Hyper-Dimensional BOX, Buddo!

Energy does not come from nowhere, it must be converted from sometime. Even if you are tapping alternate dimensions this is still a conversion of energy. See laws of thermodynamics. Hahaha. I totally wish you could create overunity however, looked into megs and bedinis, quantum stuff, time crystals. All sorts. :)

Thanks for commenting.

I have looked at the MEG and know John Bedini's work very well.
BTW, I did say OVERUNITY not "Free Energy". That is a misnomer!
The energy I am tapping comes from the Aether, or the underlying
universal energy field. I will do a post on it someday, it's a valid
concept. I believe Ihave already done it, now I am trying to scale
it up to massive levels :D

Thanks for the input, I am always willing to discuss these concepts!

So it's not overunity, it's just pulling energy from a previously unknown source. :P

@sammosk Scientists have found and identified many Earth like planets, the next step is building a craft that is capable of travelling faster than the speed of light so we can go take a look. One of the biggest arguments against extraterrestrial visitation today is the fact that light speed travel is not possible. This isn’t only untrue, but there are multiple ways a craft could travel throughout the universe in short periods of time. There are shortcuts through space, wormholes, bending space, the Alcubierre Drive and more.

I think it's a problem of materials and energy sources at this point, once we crack the exotic sources we should be okay to push for the highest of speeds.

Yes I'm agreed with your points of view!!

Don't forget the inertial dampening fields, we'll need those too for use in conjunction with stopping or else the last thing that goes through your mind will be the back of your head, and you strike me as a being who prefers their existence to be a more 3D than 2D experience ;)

Well lets not let a bit of squish get in the way of a good time. :'D

I'm thinking as an early method would be using hyper oxygenated fluid and submerging the body entirely in it, this would allow for some serious g forces. :D

A mass large enough to be a craft traveling at near light speed momentum stopping in the kind of timeframe expected would probably produce an itty-bitty baby neutron star and an instantaneous catastrophic dispersion of energy and potentially material, aka: nova

The brilliant xkcd has written a hilarious hypothetical scenario in which we are guided through in detail exactly what would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light - must read.

Yeah by serious G forces I wasn't thinking near light speed, that's for sure, to do that we'd need structural integrity fields, massive forcefields to divert space dust and micrometeorites out of the way, internal damping fields to maintain integrity of the individuals inside and stop them from pasting themselves on the nearest bulkhead, or some kind of space warping business. Unfortunately all a long way off unless you count an electromagnetically generated plasma sheath as a forcefield. :D

I'm glad I stumbled onto this post, been really enjoying this.

Going to read it now. This should be amazing.

Everything within roughly a mile of the park is leveled, and a firestorm engulfs the surrounding city. The baseball diamond is now a sizable crater, centered a few hundred feet behind the former location of the backstop.

Bahahaha, yes, this is something I can get behind.

I think my favourite part is:

"The answer turns out to be “a lot of things”, and they all happen very quickly, and it doesn’t end well for the batter (or the pitcher)."

Followed by:

"The batter hasn't even seen the pitcher let go of the ball, since the light carrying that information arrives at about the same time the ball does. Collisions with the air have eaten the ball away almost completely, and it is now a bullet-shaped cloud of expanding plasma..."

Railgun x 1000. hahahahahaha.

I vote to use the Black Holes.
Fantastic work as always Sammo!

Thank you Isaria. Hope you are doing well.

In this series, The Theology of Authority, we will be examining a number of concepts within the Bible regarding authority and submission including slavery, marriage, the Church, the state, and divine obedience. Many such relationships are often misunderstood, or used to justify various forms of abuse. This series will seek to bring clarity to discussions frequently clouded with confusion.

The proposed mechanism of the Alcubierre drive implies a negative energy density and therefore requires exotic matter. So if exotic matter with the correct properties can not exist, then the drive could not be constructed.

Great post

Can u grant me a favor by following And upvote me too @amarmech595

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interesting article

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I know that they may not be scientifically accurate, but movies like Interstellar and Gravity have always captured my attention. The concepts of space and how objects interact in space are interested af! I love learning about these things and your post was an amazing read.

There is a very cool one called event horizon as well, much fun to be had in that movie.

Thanks for your comment and support. Much loves. <3

good post @sammosk, I like the last one a lot.
It's the only one that seems like it is worth exploring to me.
I always liked ion-drives too though.
I had a non-fiction book as a teenager, called "interstellar travel" and it was basically a book length discussion of all the known or theorised technologies at the time (1980? 1975?)

well outdated now, as these decades have been the decades in all this theoretical physics.
What do you think about the problem that all of our technologies, even the as yet undeveloped ones, make an assumption that there will always be abundant (cheap) fossil fuel energy for the mining processing and transport of raw materials and finished goods and parts.
Even hydrogen is usually derived from natural gas, as electrolysis is very energy intensive.
I know that theoretically we could use the abundant solar energy for this job, but we don't.
And the EOERI of petroleum and nat gas have been contracting sharply for decades.
Not to mention economic chaos.

Do you think we'll get off the planet, in this one window, that we are squandering?
I don't know what to think these days.

Good post, and you introduced me to several new ideas that weren't in my book.

big hugs

I can't for the life of me figure out why we are not harvesting solar energy in orbit and beaming it down to earth, radio, microwave, laser, all could be viable for transmitting this energy down.

Also geothermal and hydrothermal could be tapped, there are many many vents under the ocean that pump out in the realm of 50+MWt per site.

Abundant water for hydrolysis, salt for whatever you like, perhaps molten salt capacitor/heat store? rare earth elements and other exotic stuff like tritium all sorts of fun stuff.

Fossil fuel is just used because it's easy to sell it to you, if they are pumping out 1000's of MW from the sea floor and producing more hydrogen then they know what to do with, well it's tough to charge $1+ per gallon for that I guess.

It's all about the coin, unfortunately.

I hope we get off this planet, all it takes is one catastrophic event and humanity is d.d.d.d.done.

Glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for commenting. Much loves. <3

YUP, it's all about the Petro-Dollar and the tax revenue that the Oil Con generates. Once we break that unholy alliance with the House of Saud, we can explore all the alternatives and then break these planetary bonds that keep us here on Earth ;)

Really cool stuff. I liked the way you summarized the different methods. Great post.

Glad you enjoyed, was doing the best I could to keep it simple.

Wow! Fascinating post!) Resteem

We need better education in the world

I like the idea of lightsailing. I really have no idea what the physics behind it but the mental image looks extra mystical in my head😻

Wow dude, very informative.
Black Hole energy would be the sheeeeeet!
Soon we will truly have Ludicrous Speed.

Magnificent article!!! It is accessible on reading, informative. I really liked it. I am very glad that I follow you!!! From me apvote.

Great work, Sammo!
I'm a bit behind in my space reading, you have a few new ones for me to think about! I'[m a child of the Space Race, I grew up in the years of Apollo and such. I was a first year apprentice Sparky for 6 months when the Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch. I also remember the Columbia grenading on re-entry. But I did get to see some of the moon walks on TV as a very young lad, not sure which ones I saw but I do remember seeing it! ;) U.R.R. FOR YOU!

Challenger was horrible, that made me much unhappy.

Being live for the moon walk would have been some amazing stuff.

I'm not old enough to have seen that one.

Thanks for your support and comment, much loves. <3

Very nice post. Have you ever heard of the Fluxliner? Great way to travel in the Solar System based on zero point energy.

Was that the one that used magnetic flux as propulsion, if so, yes. :)

Hey @sammosk , would love to offer you a slot on my podcast sometime.

It is about people doing remarkable things, whether entrepreneurs or not.
Where we talk about what you are doing, believe in and what difference you are making in the world.
It is part youtube channel where the mission is to help 1,000,000 entrepreneurs become remarkable, and the podcast acts as a way to share stories and connect with people.

Here is the playlist of the existing episodes:

It is audio only over skype. Would love you to come on the show and talk about yourself. Does this sound of interest to you?

Finally i knew we were closer rp explorinf deeper space

Great read! You made it easy to read and understand for those that aren't physics majors or rocket scientists!
Have you heard of the Nuclear Light Bulb ?

This is great stuff. I had to come back and read it thoroughly. Great contribution.