WATCH STEPHEN HAWKING’S – ROCKET TO THE FUTURE
That was six years ago – it would be a huge ship and require an enormous quantity of fuel. But the principle is sound. In the vacuum of space you can continuously accelerate and ultimately approach a significant fraction of the speed of light.
Now there are serious plans to send a spacecraft to the stars! But on a much smaller scale, but the principle is the same.
Not big enough to take astronauts, but could the principle be scaled up?
For now let’s look at ion propulsion in more detail.
Let us imagine a journey to a star 10 light years away. We start from Mars orbit and outside the planet’s gravitational pull and use advanced rocket technology to reach Jupiter. This is a journey of 555 million kilometres [km] taking 7-8 months at 100,000 km per hour. [Approx. estimate of future capability]
We use the immense mass of Jupiter to attract and accelerate our craft onto a collision course [initially] and at the critical moment re-fire the advanced rockets to sling our spaceship around the gas giant and onto its new trajectory and new speed of 1 million km/hour.
Now we start the nuclear reactor, the only power plant capable of sustaining thrust over a 20 year journey [unless we discover something remarkable during the next 100 years]. The heat output from this reactor would be used to power a new type of drive capable of pushing our craft towards light speed. I will describe one concept which has been around for decades, surprisingly – the ion drive.
Here a stream of positively charged hydrogen ions [H+] is ejected at high speed from the rear of the object being propelled. The thrust is small but in the vacuum of space even a large object can be manoeuvred and accelerated provided you have enough thrusters. The ion drive of a starship is likely to be 50-80 metres in diameter and each of the thrusters say 5 cm round. You could get over 2 million thrusters in this drive [clustered around the advanced rockets] all contributing their power from the emitting stream of hydrogen ions.
By providing constant sufficient acceleration you would design to accelerate from 0.001c to 0.5c in 1 year [c = speed of light].
Thus our journey to a star 10 light years away would be approximately 23 years – 2 years to accelerate, 20 to get there and 1 year to slow down to a manageable speed to orbit around a target planet of our destination star.
I’m sure the mathematicians among you can calculate the acceleration required and the typical thrust needed from each tube – can we achieve this in 150 years time?
CAN WE PROPEL A STARSHIP TOWARDS LIGHT SPEED?
I think we can and in 2150 my starship leaves Mars for the star Seren, 10 light years away. You may wish to watch the event in 1972 that sparked my story.
IMAGINE THE UNIMAGINABLE!
Read all about it in my sci-fi trilogy – Quest of the Dicepterons. Follow the link below.