The newly proposed propulsion system could theoretically send a heavy spacecraft out of the confines of our solar system in as little as 5 years – a feat it took the historic Voyager 1 probe 35 years to achieve.
concept known as propulsion “beam pellet”was awarded a $175,000 early NASA grant for further development earlier this year.
To be clear, the concept currently doesn’t exist beyond calculations on paper, so we can’t get too excited just yet.
However, it attracted attention not only because of its ability to take us into interstellar space during a human lifetime – something like conventional chemical-fueled rockets. I can not — but also because she claims she can do it with larger-than-life crafts.
“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,” explains the principal researcher behind the proposalAeronautical engineer Artur Davuyan of the University of California, Los Angeles.
The concept of granules was partially inspired by Starshot hack Initiative, which operates on the “light sail” propulsion system. With the help of millions of lasers, the tiny probe will theoretically be able to sail to neighboring Proxima Centauri in just 20 years.
The new proposal starts with a similar idea — dumping fuel on a rocket rather than detonating it from one — but looks at how to move large objects. After all, a small probe isn’t necessarily what we need if we one day want to explore or colonize worlds beyond our solar system ourselves.
To operate, the conceptual propulsion system requires two spacecraft — one blasting off for interstellar space, and one in orbit around Earth.
The spacecraft orbiting the Earth will shoot a beam of tiny microparticles at the interstellar spacecraft.
Those will be particles laser heated, Which leads to dissolving part of it in the plasma, which accelerates the pellets more, a process known as laser ablation.
Those pellets can reach 120 km / s (75 mph) and either hit the interstellar spacecraft’s sail or repelled a The magnet is in itwhich helps propel the spacecraft to huge speeds that allow it to escape from the heliosphere – the bubble of solar wind around our solar system.
“Using a pellet beam, the outer planets can be reached in less than a year, 100 astronomical units [astronomical unit] in about 3 years and solar gravitational lensing at 500 AU in about 15 years,” He says Dafuyan.
For context, the AU, which stands for “astronomical unit,” is roughly the distance between Earth and the sun, or about 150 million kilometers (93 million miles).
It took the Voyager 1 probe 35 years of travel to cross into interstellar space in 2012, at a distance of approximately 122 astronomical units.
According to current projections, a one-ton pellet spacecraft could do the same in less than 5 years.
Dafuyan Explained by Matt Williams from Universe Today Last February, his team took a pellet approach, rather than just using lasers like other sail projects, because the pellet can be propelled by a relatively low-energy laser.
In their current projections, only a 10-mW laser beam can be used.
“Unlike a laser beam, the grains do not diverge as quickly, which allows us to accelerate heavier spacecraft,” Tell Davoyan Williams.
“The pellets are much heavier than photons, carry more momentum and can impart a higher force to a spacecraft.”
Of course, this is all just speculation for now. But the first phase of the NASA Innovative and Advanced Concepts (NIAC) grant would help.
project was One out of 14 funded at this early stage, and the next step will be to show proof of concept using experiments.
“In the Phase 1 effort, we will prove the feasibility of the proposed propulsion concept by conducting detailed modeling of the various subsystems of the proposed propulsion architecture, and by conducting proof-of-concept pilot studies,” Davoyan says.
We will follow the progress closely.
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