CREDIT: NASA/Glenn Research Center
The prospects for exotic new space propulsion systems are getting better and better these days. Space.com reports that antimatter fusion drives could be ready within 50-60 years:
A fusion-powered spacecraft could reach Jupiter within four months, potentially opening up parts of the outer solar system to manned exploration, according to a 2010 NASA report.
A number of hurdles would have to be overcome ― particularly in the production and storage of antimatter ― to make the technology feasible, but some experts imagine it could be ready to go in a half-century or so.
But this next one has me more excited than a Ferengi with unexpected profits — warp drives may be more plausible than once thought:
A concept for a real-life warp drive was suggested in 1994 by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, however subsequent calculations found that such a device would require prohibitive amounts of energy.
An Alcubierre warp drive would involve a football-shape spacecraft attached to a large ring encircling it. This ring, potentially made of exotic matter, would cause space-time to warp around the starship, creating a region of contracted space in front of it and expanded space behind. The only problem is, studies estimated the warp drive would require a minimum amount of energy about equal to the mass-energy of the planet Jupiter.
But recently [Harold] White [of NASA’s Johnson Space Center] calculated what would happen if the shape of the ring encircling the spacecraft was adjusted into more of a rounded donut, as opposed to a flat ring. He found in that case, the warp drive could be powered by a mass about the size of a spacecraft like the Voyager 1 probe NASA launched in 1977.
Kid-in-me: “W00t, I can’t wait!”
Cynic-in-me: “Quiet, kid. You were promised flying cars by now, and look how that turned out.”
Me: “Shut up, Cynic, I’m with the Kid. W00t!”