The Inventor of the EM Drive (I posted about 5/8/15 and 7/30/15), Roger Shawyer, just published the peer-reviewed paper “Second Generation EmDrive Propulsion Applied To SSTO Launcher And Interstellar Probe” in the journal Acta Astronautica. Shawyer and his firm, Satellite Propulsion Research Ltd., is working on a second generation of the controversial EM drive. Their target is to produce a drive capable of producing at least 1,000kg of thrust from electrical power.
While this drive, if it can be built, would be applicable to spacecraft, Shawyer is now eying the much more lucrative terrestrial transportation market of drones and autos. With a current target of a 2017 flight, we won’t have too long to wait.
Let’s all hope that he, or one of the others researching the EM drive, will have something practical before the end of this decade.
I wrote a little about the EM drive last May. In essence that drive produces thrust for spacecraft using electricity. While the EM drive is not something that will get us FTL capability, it would be a step forward towards faster and cheaper travel in space.
The drive is scoffed at by most, but German researchers are scheduled to make a presentation at the American Institute for
Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Propulsion and Energy Forum that
just began in Orlando, Florida. The paper “Direct Thrust Measurements of an EMDrive and Evaluation of Possible Side-Effects” describes the research and supports claims of the EM drive producing thrust.
Certainly this is not a firm acknowledgement that the EM drive works, but it does open the way to further research. As unlikely as many believe the claims of the EM drive to be, proving that it does work would be a major step forward to space travel and exploration.
NASA, using the Kepler telescope, has identified a very Earth-like planet in the ‘habitable zone‘ of Kepler 452b. Not only is the planet similar to Earth, the sun it orbits is a G-type star like our own sun. Granted the planet is about 60% larger than Earth with a projected gravity about twice that of Earth, but the characteristics of the planet make it sound like a promising candidate for some kind of life.
Don’t start packing your bags yet, as this exoplanet is 1400 light years away. This was not the only promising discovery announced. The discovery of eleven other planets in the ‘habitable zone’ was also announced. These recent announcements brings the number of confirmed planets to 1,030, and possible planets to 4,675.
We can only look forward to what new discoveries various new ground and orbiting telescopes will bring as they are put into production.
Are we alone in the Universe is a question that has been asked over and over again, yet we still do not have the answer. The SETI Institute has been seeking an answer to that question since 1984. Many have also joined the SETI@home program, downloading the application onto their computers to help with the search by utilizing their computers when they are not in use.
The effort to search for extraterrestrial life just got a major boost. Internet investor Yuri Milner has pledged $100 million to the search. Radio telescopes, lasers, and other high tech equipment will be used to seek out signals from other points in space. This is only a 10 year commitment, but it will take the search significantly forward.
Launching anything into orbit has, thus far, relied on the tried
and true chemical rocket. Escape Dynamics Inc. may soon offer an alternate solution – launch to orbit on microwaves. The concept is to set up microwave transmitters on the ground and focus them on the spacecraft. Inside the thruster of the spacecraft is a heat exchanger that absorbs the microwave radiation and heats up the on-board fuel – either helium (used in their latest proof of concept) or hydrogen.
Thus far their tests have shown that the concept can generate more thrust than conventional rockets. If this idea proves viable, then space planes can be launched into orbit with payloads up to 200kg. The payload can be deployed in orbit, then the space plane can glide back to Earth. Once it has landed it can be refueled and be ready for it’s next flight.
Certainly this is not a method of propulsion that you will be seeing in the near future, but so far the idea holds promise for the future.
The flight of the LightSail, developed by the non-profit The Planetary Society, is now over. The craft reentered Earth’s atmosphere yesterday and burned up during reentry. The trip, although lasting only 25 days. did end in success, though the flight was not without troubles. The goal of this flight was to simply deploy the sails and prove that the craft was spaceworthy. The next challenge will come late next year when a sister vessel will attempt to ‘fly’ with the sails. The 2016 flight will be partially funded by kickstarter with 9 days left on the project. The goal was to raise $200,000. Currently they have pledges for $903,224.
The craft was inspired by ideas from astronomer Carl Saga. Instead of chemical propellants, it will use the ‘pressure’ of photons on the large sails. In fact it will use the force of protons from the sun much in the same way a sailing ship uses the wind. Granted that the force exerted on the sails will be low, about 5 newtons, but there is no mass or space required for fuel storage. Further, craft using the light sails can maintain the force from the sun over long periods, slowly building up substantial speeds.
Photos sent back from LightSail on June 7 showed that the sails had been successfully deployed.
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft was the first to visit a dwarf planet earlier this month. Ceres, the 940 km diameter planet visited, makes up a quarter of the mass of the asteroid belt. Because of it’s extremely low gravity (0.29 m/s versus 9.81 m/s on Earth) and proximity to the resources in the asteroid belt, Ceres is considered a good candidate for a future outpost. Orbiting 445,410,000 km (the Earth is at only 151,930,000 km) from the sun, it would be a distant
A short composite video was prepared by NASA from photos taken by the Dawn spacecraft and can be seen here. The video shows the rocky, pitted surface of Ceres.
SpaceX has released a set of Space Travel posters to excite our imaginations as to what may be in our future, albeit probably more than a few years off. You can see, and download, the public domain
posters as high resolution images from the SpaceX Photos Flickr site. Highlighted in the posters are three Martian locations: the twin moons, Phobos and Deimos; the Calles Marineris (canyons on Mars discovered by Mariner 9); and Olympus Mons, a 16 mile high extinct volcano.
I suspect that at least one of these will soon adorn the wall in my office.
Of course we all want to be able to travel through space like the Enterprise at Warp speed. But will we ever be able to do that?
Physics (like explained in the article “Are We Ever Going To Develop Faster-Than-Light Travel?“) says that it is unlikely. But there are plausible (yet plagued with problems) theories of ‘bending’ space such as proposed by physicist Miguel Alcubierre. The ‘Alcubierre drive‘ is an idea based on Einstein’s general relativity which could enable faster than light travel by contracting space in front of the vessel and expanding space behind it.
So, while faster than light travel is plausible, right now there are no solid designs to get us there. One can still hope though that one day the break through discovery will be made.
When I saw the article recently that NASA’s Eagleworks lab had successfully tested Roger Shawyer‘s electromagnetic propulsion drive (EmDrive) in a vacuum I had hoped that we were on the verge of opening up new propulsion capabilities. Regretfully, an article posted on Wired on May 6 (That NASA Warp Drive? Yeah, It’s Still Poppycock) seems to leave the results of that testing wanting.
In order to make space exploration practical, faster and cheaper means of propulsion will have to be developed. I am sure that one day a better space drive will be developed.