Space engines of the future

Space engines of the future

Nasa is looking forward and developing new technologies to push space exploration well beyond low-Earth orbit, including Mars and beyond. Future deep space missions will require new generation space engines as, for instance, solar power technologies able to improve mission performances, increase solar array life, and to allow a probe to explore deeper into space than ever before.

Sails and solar arrays for Nasa

This should be the fruit of Game Changing Development (GCD) programme, that recently has selected four technological proposals; initial contract awards are as much as $400,000 providing awardees with funding for nine months of research and development, after that Nasa may select up to two of these technologies to receive up to $1.25 million to further develop and test their hardware. At the end, one awardee may be selected to deliver scalable system hardware.

But Nasa doesn’t look just to solar arrays for the deep space exploration. At its Marshall Space Flight Center the agency is developing sviluppando Heliopause Electrostatic Rapid Transit System (HERTS) or E-sail, a revolutionary propellant-less propulsion system based on solar wind aiming to propel a spacecraft up to te limits of the heliosphere in less than 10 years, instead of 30 years as the Voyager 1.

Also Millner bets on the solar sails

The Russian multimillionaire Yuri Milner likes he idea of using sails, propelled by powerful laser beams from Earth, so he will finance with 100 million dollars the Breakthrough Starshot project, supported also by astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg,that foresees the launching of a fleet of 20 mini-probes to be made which would then travel toward Alpha Centauri, about 4,37 light-years away from the system solar.

Space engines of the future

In parallel both the Nasa and the European spatial agency (Esa) are further developing Hall-effect ion engines, used since the nineties by the former Soviet Union and then by Russia able to operate continually for many years consuming less fuel (the latest ion thrusters utilize Xenon gas), although till now the push gotten by such engines is modest.

Even further will be other kind of engines to sustain the expansion of the man in the universe, if Harold White, mechanical engineer, aerospace engineer and applied physicist who is the Advanced Propulsion Team Lead for the NASA Engineering Directorate who works at Jonhnson Space Center and who is studying an Alcuberrie drive, i.e. a “warp” engine, able to generate small distorsions in the space-time, big enough to include a probe or spaceship which would be able to travel faster than light. We could say that, hopefully, we can’t wait to go and visito other planets and civilizations in the galaxy, “where no man has gone before”.

Tags: Sciences