NASA’s Radical Propulsion Concept Could Reach Interstellar Space in Less Than 5 Years: ScienceAlert

The newly proposed propulsion system could theoretically send a heavy spacecraft beyond the confines of our solar system in just 5 years – a feat it took the historic Voyager 1 probe 35 years to accomplish.

known concept drive “pellet beam”was awarded a $175,000 NASA seed grant for further development earlier this year.

To be clear, the current concept doesn’t exist beyond calculations on paper, so we can’t get too excited just yet.

However, it has attracted attention not only for its ability to transport us to interstellar space during human lifetimes – something like conventional chemical-fired rockets. I can’t – but also because he claims he can do it with a larger-than-life craft.

“This proposal examines a new propulsion architecture for the rapid transport of heavy payloads (1 ton and more) across the solar system and the interstellar medium,” describes the main researcher behind the proposalAviation engineer Artur Davuyan of the University of California, Los Angeles.

The grain concept is partly inspired by Retasan Starshot Initiative, which operates on a “light sail” propulsion system. With the help of millions of lasers, this tiny probe could theoretically sail to neighboring Proxima Centauri in just 20 years.

The new proposal starts with a similar idea – dumping fuel into a rocket rather than detonating it from one – but looks at how to move large objects. After all, small probes are not necessarily all we need if we are to one day explore or colonize worlds outside our own solar system.

To operate, the conceptual propulsion system requires two spacecraft — one hurtling into interstellar space, and one in orbit around Earth.

A spacecraft orbiting Earth will shoot a beam of tiny microparticles at the interstellar spacecraft.

It will be particles laser heated, That leads to dissolving some of it in the plasma, which accelerates the pellet even more, a process known as laser ablation.

Illustration of how the pellet beam propulsion system works. (Artur Davoyan)

The pellet can reach 120 km / dtk (75 mph) and crash into the sails of an interstellar spacecraft or repel a The magnet is in itwhich helps propel the spacecraft to the high speeds that allow it to escape the heliosphere – the solar wind bubble around our solar system.

“Using pellet rays, the outer planets can be reached in less than a year, 100 astronomical units [astronomical unit] in about 3 years and the sun’s gravitational lens at 500 AU in about 15 years,” He said Dafuyan.

For context, AU, which stands for “astronomical unit”, is roughly the distance between Earth and the sun, or about 150 million kilometers (93 million miles).

Voyager 1 took 35 years to cross into interstellar space in 2012, at a distance of about 122 astronomical units.

According to current projections, a one-ton pellet spacecraft could do the same thing in less than 5 years.

Dafuyan Described by Matt Williams of Universe Today Last February, his team took a pellet approach, rather than just using a laser like other sail projects, because the pellets can be propelled by relatively low-energy lasers.

In their current projection, only a 10 mW laser beam can be used.

“Unlike a laser beam, the particles do not spread out as quickly, which allows us to accelerate heavier spacecraft,” Tell Davoyan Williams.

“Pellets are much heavier than photons, carry more momentum and can provide a higher force to the spacecraft.”

Of course, this is all just speculation for now. But the first phase of the NASA Innovative and Advanced Concepts (NIAC) grant will help.

that project One in 14 funded at this early stage, and the next step is to demonstrate a proof of concept using experiments.

“In our Phase 1 effort, we will prove the feasibility of the proposed propulsion concept by carrying out detailed modeling of the various subsystems of the proposed propulsion architecture, and by conducting proof-of-concept pilot studies,” Davoyan said.

We will follow its development closely.

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