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NASA’s Radical Propulsion Concept Could Reach Interstellar Space Within 5 Years: Science Alert

The newly proposed propulsion system could theoretically carry a heavy spacecraft out of the confines of our solar system in as little as 5 years — the 35 years it took the historic Voyager 1 probe.

concept known as Propulsion “beam pellet”An initial NASA grant of $175,000 was awarded earlier this year for further development.

To be clear, there is currently no concept beyond calculations on paper, so we can’t get too excited.

However, it’s not just because of its ability to take us into interstellar space during a human lifetime — it’s also caught the attention of conventional chemical-fueled rockets. I can not — but because it claims to be able to do this with much larger vehicles.

“This proposal explores a new propulsion architecture for the rapid transport of heavy payloads (1 ton or larger) through the solar system and into the interstellar medium.” explains the principal researcher behind the proposalAeronautical engineer Artur Taoyan of the University of California, Los Angeles.

The concept of the pellet beam is somewhat inspired Starshot hack Initiative, which operates on a “light sail” propulsion system. With the help of millions of lasers, a small probe could theoretically travel to neighboring Proxima Centauri in 20 years.

The new proposal starts with a similar idea — dumping fuel into a rocket rather than a rocket — but looks at how to replace the larger bodies. After all, if we ever want to explore or colonize worlds beyond our solar system ourselves, we don’t need a little exploration.

To operate, the concept propulsion system would require two spacecraft – one for launching into interstellar space and one for orbiting Earth.

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

These particles remain heated by laser, Part of it causes it to dissolve into the plasma, causing the molecules to speed up, a process known as laser ablation.

Illustration of how the pellet beam propulsion system works. (Arthur Tavoyan)

These particles can reach 120 km / s (75 miles/sec) and hit the sails of a starship or drive a starship away. The magnet is in itThey help propel the spacecraft to the maximum speed that will allow it to escape the heliosphere, the bubble of solar wind that surrounds our solar system.

“With the pellet packet, the outer planets can be reached within a year, 100 astronomical units [astronomical unit] In about 3 years and in about 15 years at 500 astronomical units in the solar gravitational lens,” He says Dafuyan.

For context, the AU stands for “Astronomical Unit,” which is the distance between Earth and the Sun, or about 150 million kilometers (93 million miles).

It took Voyager 1 35 years to cross interstellar space at a distance of about 122 AU in 2012.

According to current projections, a 1-ton pellet spacecraft could do this in 5 years.

Dafuyan Matt Williams from Universe Today explained In February, his team took a pellet approach rather than using lasers like other sail projects, because the pellets can be fired with relatively low-energy beams of light.

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

“Unlike a laser beam, the particles do not diverge as quickly, allowing a heavier spacecraft to accelerate.” Tell Tavoyan Williams.

“The particles, being much heavier than photons, carry more momentum and can transfer more energy to a spacecraft.”

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

There was a plan One out of 14 This early stage is funded, and the next stage is 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 conducting proof of concept test studies.” Davoyan says.

We will follow the progress closely.