Tag Archives: Propulsion

Future of Interstellar Travel

Space – I came across the article “Here Is the Future of Interstellar Spacecraft” yesterday and thought it was a good overview of the propulsion technologies that are likely to take future spacecraft beyond the Solar System.

In short the alternatives that are covered are:

  1. Thermonuclear propulsion
  2. Lightsail
  3. Bussard ramjet
  4. Antimatter rockets
  5. NASA’s Eagleworks Lab “Warp bubble” drive

None of these are really going to be ready in the near future, with possibly the exception of the Lightsail. I am glad to see though that the ideas are being kept in front of people, particularly those budding STEM students who will lead the way over the next few decades.


Is a ‘Warp’ Drive Feasible?

We have all heard of Warp or other Faster Than Light (FTL) drives in science fiction, but are they really possible?

This short (11:54) video goes into the details of the Alcubierre Drive. While so far this drive is just theoretical, there is a strong technical basis for the drive. Certainly there are several barriers to building one of these today, but there are new achievements and discoveries every day that may break down some of these.

There has been some experimental results out of NASA that tends to support some of the aspects of the Alcubierre Drive, but at this point the Alcubierre Drive is mostly theory.

Further explanation of the EmDrive

I have mentioned the EmDrive several times in articles on space propulsion. The EmDrive is in the news again because a peer-reviewed paper on the drive has been submitted by NASA’s Eagleworks.

That does not mean that the EmDrive has been proven to actually work, but it does mean that it is getting some serious scientific attention. The video above is a good overview of the EmDrive by physicist Scott Manley. He talks about how the EmDrive is supposed to work, as well as the physics that says that it shouldn’t. (Manley has his own YouTube channel).

If you have interest in the EmDrive, it would be worth your time (about 16 minutes) to watch this video.

“The Science of Star Trek” 2016 Video

I have been a Star Trek fan since the series first debuted on TV in 1966. I came across this video and thought that it gave a good look at the ‘science’ of the Star Trek universe. It also touches upon the desire the fiction of Star Trek has instilled in many to make it possible to literally ‘go where no man has gone before’.

I look back at the 50 years that have passed since the series began and see how the series has continued to give us a look at the possible technology of the future. During that same time we have seen our real science evolve. The cell phones, tablet computers, 3D printers, and voice computer UI all had affiliated tech in the 1966 Star Trek episodes. There is even an on-going competition (the Tricorder X prize) to see who can develop a working “Tricorder” for medical

If you are interested in the Star Trek universe or in technology and the possibility of interstellar travel, this video will be of interest.

Presentations on EM Drive at Conference


I have mentioned the EM Drive in several articles on Space Propulsion. Perhaps we will learn a little more when the “Estes Park Advanced Propulsion Workshop” is held in Estes Park, Colorado beginning tomorrow.

The conference is being held by Space Studies Institute (SSI). There will be multiple papers presented on the EM Drive or related technology. Hopefully we will learn a little more and perhaps begin to have a conclusive answer to this controversial theory on space propulsion.

EM Drive Test


I have mentioned the controversial EM Drive several times in Space Propulsion related articles. We may know soon if the drive really works once and for all. Guido Fetta of Cannae Inc has announced that they will work to launch a 6U cubesat to test the drive.

Fetta has an interest in this as he is the inventor of the Cannae Drive, which is related to the EM Drive. Both are closed microwave based systems with no conventional exhaust as the propellant.

While proving the drive does work would be a huge milestone for space travel, few in the scientific community give it much home.

Space News #4

I haven’t been keeping up very well with Space related news, so some of these articles date back to April. I think that they are still relevant though.

Alien Life

As we look for possible homes for live in the universe, we are biased towards life taking on the aspects we know well of life here on Earth. “How alien can a planet be and still support life?“. Astronomers have primarily focused on those exoplanets in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone as being the most likely to be the home to some sort of life.

Just being in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone does not mean that the planet will host life. In our own planetary system both Venus and Mars could fall within the ‘Goldilocks’ zone. Neither, so far, have shown any sign of harboring life. The theory is raised that plate tectonics may be an additional requirement for life.

This article gives some additional background as to what my be needed for an exoplanet to develop and support life.

Ion Engine

In “THIS FUTURISTIC ION ENGINE COULD CARRY OUR LUGGAGE TO MARS” the Ion Engine that NASA is planning to use to supply the early Mars missions is discussed. This engine will harvest the abundant solar energy using it to expel xenon gas as the propellant. This system will be 10 times more efficient that conventional chemical rocket motors.

Chemical rockets can generate more thrust, but the ion engine can generate continuous thrust. The chemical propulsion systems also require considerable space for storing the necessary fuel. NASA hopes to launch a mission to the asteroid belt, capture an asteroid and then return it to orbit the Moon by 2026.

Inertia Could Explain EM Drive

A new theory of inertia could explain the EM Drive’s anomalous thrust” tries to explain how the EM Drive may be able to work. The EM Drive is still deeply controversial, with most physicists stating that it simply cannot work. That said, as I have noted in previous posts, there is some scientific evidence that it may be able to generate thrust.

In this article, a new theory of inertia is used as a possible explanation. This theory of inertia could explain the thrust generated inside the EM Drive.

Lots of theory here. Time will tell if the theory has any merit and it the EM Drive is more than just a hope.

More on the EM Drive

Another view of the EM Drive and the physics behind it is provided in “EM Drive Rises Despite Pathoskeptic Dirge“. This article also mentions the new theory of inertia and Unruh radiation as an explanation.

Finding Life

The article “SEARCHING FOR LIFE IN ALL THE RIGHT PLACES” describes a methods astrobiologists plan to follow to find extraterrestrial life. In summary these efforts are:

  • Drilling into the ice in Antarctica to look for extreme forms of life
  • Bringing samples home from Mars for further analysis
  • Scanning exoplanets for signs of life
  • Searching for more exoplanets

Not a lot of details, more of an overview of efforts planned

SpaceX Headed to Mars

SpaceX has plans (“SpaceX plans to send a Red Dragon spacecraft to Mars as early as 2018“) to send an unmanned spacecraft to Mars as early as 2018. This would be using their current Dragon module that is being used to resupply the ISS. Because of the limited size of the Dragon, it is ill-suited for long duration missions. Sending it to Mars though would be a proof of concept flight in preparation for later manned missions.

Drake Updated

The Drake Equation was updated in light of exoplanet discoveries by NASA by University of Rochester scientists. you can read “Are we alone? Setting some limits to our planet’s uniqueness” for more details, but the gist is that life out there somewhere is more likely today than thought in Drake’s time.

Space News #3 -Antimatter Drive, Interstellar Mission and NASA Funding Far-Out

Some interesting Space related articles I recently found in the news.

Scientists Want to Fund Antimatter Drive through Kickstarter

I saw the article “Physicists launching Kickstarter to build Star Trek-style antimatter drive” almost two months ago. Physicists Steven Howe and Gerald Jackson have been pushing their idea of an antimatter drive for some time. So far though, NASA has not been willing to fund their further research. Now the scientists are planning on engaging the public for a $200,000 kickstarted project.

This is only the first step though. They have many technological issues to overcome and they readily admit that the full drive development would more likely cost closer to $100 million. The results, if achieved, would be worth it as they estimate that using an antimatter drive a space craft could reach close to 40% the speed of light.

Development of the antimatter drive is being done by Howe and Jackson’s company Hbar Technologies.

Interstellar Mission

A group of scientists and technology leaders from Silicon Valley want to send a mission (Breakthrough Starshot) to Alpha Centauri – a mere 4.37 light years ‘near’. The effort is being led by Russian philanthropist and Internet Entrepreneur Yuri Milner. Among those backing this proposal are Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and physicist Stephen Hawking.

Their idea is to launch several small satellites and propel them on their way using an Earth based lasers. Each small probe would deploy a ‘sail’ which would catch the laser light and accelerate them to 20% of the speed of light.

Don’t expect this to come about anytime soon. Not only ae there some significant technological obstacles, but the project is estimated at costing upwards of $10 billion. The time line includes 20 years to plan and implement the mission, 20 years for the probes to travel to Alpha Centauri and an additional 4+ years to received any data transmitted by the probes back to Earth.

Read more about this at  #1#2,  #3#4, #5. Article #4 has a good overview video.

NASA Funding Far-Out Concepts

All of the funding done by NASA is not the standard projects we commonly think of. NASA has identified 13 phase I projects and awarded each $100,000 for a feasibility study. Later another round of grants may award up to $500,000 for further development.

Space News #1 -VASIMR Engine, Colonization and Antimatter Starship

I came across these over the past pre days and thought they were interesting.



I thought that this was an interesting article about alternative propulsion systems “VASIMR ENGINE: THE FUTURE OF SPACE TRAVEL“. The VASIMR (Variable Specific Impulse Magneto plasma Rocket) engine is being developed by the Ad Astra Rocket Company.

The VASIMR uses electromagnetic propulsion. It is only usable in the vacuum of space, so it will not be applicable to launching space craft. A neutral gas is heated to a high temperature in the engine. A magnetic field focuses the resulting exhaust providing the thrust.

While these engines bring the promise of long lifetimes, they also require significant electrical power for generation of the magnetic field. These may have a place on future space vehicles, but there are still many obstacles in the way of deployment.


While we are no where near ready to launch a colonization effort, thought has been given to how we should proceed. The article “A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO PLANET COLONIZATION” gives a good high level outline as to what will be needed.

I thought that it was significant that an estimated 20,000-40,000 people will be needed to establish a sustainable colony. To me this says that a true colony will take decades to establish once the effort finally begins.

In our solar system the only viable locations would be Mars, or perhaps the moons of Jupiter or Neptune (they talk about having about 50 locations in mind).

Antimatter Starship

Certainly we have all heard referenced to antimatter in episodes of Star Trek. Hbar Technologies plans to bring antimatter propulsion out of science fiction and put it to use. They will be using Kickstarted to raise $200,000 to fund the next stage of their development effort. The concept was originally developed for NASA, but was dropped because of budget constraints.

The scientists involved in the project firmly believe that their design is feasible. They believe that their antimatter propulsion system could accelerate a space craft up to 1-% of the speed of light in only a year. While this is not going to open up passenger excursion to nearby stars, it would enable long-term exploration missions to be planned.

Read more in the article “Antimatter Starship Scheme Coming to Kickstarter“.

More on EM Drive and NASA Looking at Inflatable Habitats


A couple of articles caught my eye this week regarding Space. The first deals with the EM drive, a type of electromagnetic thruster. The other deals with NASA testing an expandable habitat module on the ISS.

I have written a couple of times (see ‘Propulsion’ in tag cloud) about the EM drive in recent months. There is still no official word on accepting the EM drive as working physics. However NASA’s Eagleworks Laboratories is reported to have a paper on the controversial drive going through the peer review process. If the article makes it through to publication, it will mean that at least there seems to be something to the theory.

You can read more about the EM drive in “EmDrive: Nasa Eagleworks confirms paper on controversial space propulsion is under peer review“. While I have high hopes for this propulsion system proving itself, there has not yet been any accepted data that the concept is valid.

The next SpaceX resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) scheduled for early April will carry along an experimental habitat module. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) which is an expandable capsule that will attach to the ISS. The module as delivered will be a 7.75′ diameter 5.7′ deep cylindar. When it is expanded it will roughly be 12′ deep and 10.5′ in diameter. While this may not sound like much, the module will grow from about 270 cubic feet to 1040 cubic feet.

Once the capsule is attached, it will be expanded then pressurized. Astronauts will enter the module and place various instrumentation aboard that will measure structural integrity, leakage, radiation exposure and temperature over the two years of the study. If these modules prove themselves, then that opens the door to habitat modules for space, Mars or other exploration opportunities to be transported then expand in place.