In the recent past, there have been many debates on deep space travel making it seem like a reality in the near future. Many TV shows and comic books have been written to demonstrate the fictitious reality of deep space travel. Equally, vast resources have been directed toward developing methods and vehicles for traveling to deep space. In particular, NASA scientists have been working on projects that would reduce the cost and time of traveling to space. Also, private organizations such as SpaceX have in the recent past developed a spaceship that could travel around the earth in less than sixty minutes. Although the spaceship, BFR, is still under development, many remain hopeful that such an endeavor is achievable while others remain pessimist. Some of the methods thought to make space travel a reality include ion thrusters, nuclear pulse propulsion, fusion rocket, bussard ramjet, solar sail, and BFR.
Conventional rockets use the principle of emitting gasses from rear exhausts at high speeds to generate thrust. Ideally, ion thrusters operate on a similar principle only that they emit a beam of electrically charged ions instead of hot gasses. Although the thrust produced is weak, it uses less fuel than that used by a rocket for an equal amount of thrust. Supposing they can work steadily for a sufficiently long time, they have the potential of achieving significantly high speeds. The method has been tested severally in spacecrafts including the Europe's Smart-1 lunar mission. Scientists report that the technology is improving and are hopeful of conceptualizing the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) (Sutton and Biblarz, 2016). VASIMR operates on a slightly different principle whereby instead of emitting electrically charged particles, it uses a radio frequency generator to heat the ions to one million degrees Celsius. The frequency generator is then set to a fixed frequency that makes the ions spin hence introducing more energy into the ions thus increasing the thrust (Sutton and Biblarz, 2016). Early tests have shown positive results and scientists are hopeful that realization of this method could be a way of transporting people to Mars in 39days.
Nuclear Pulse Propulsion
The method operates by periodically throwing a nuclear bomb out of the rear exhausts and denoting it to power the spaceship. The method was developed by the US military technology agency (DARPA). The agency aimed at developing a design that could be used to travel between planets. The design developed was huge since it was developed as an enormous shock absorber with strong radiation proofing for the passengers. The design seemed feasible but there were many concerns about its effects when launched in the atmosphere. However, the project was abandoned in the 1960s after the ban on nuclear tests came into place (Matlof, 2013). Despite these concerns, scientists believe that the design could be developed using modern technologies. Ideally, the design could achieve high speeds of up to ten percent the speed of light. In other words, it could transport humans to the nearest star in forty years.
BFR is arguably the largest milestone of the decade. It is a rocket developed by a company known as SpaceX to move around the earth in less than one hour with a maximum speed of 18000 mph. BFR, which is still under development, follows after the successful launch of Falcon Heavy early February 2018. Unlike the conventional rockets, BFR will be reusable and will have the ability of refueling in space. The ability to refuel is the key to interplanetary travel because it will facilitate resupplying of the ISS, landing on the moon, and traveling to Mars. After the launch of the Falcon Heavy, BFR now seems more of a reality than fiction or theory. It will use smaller and less engines than the interplanetary transport system but with more flexibility hence more suitable for various tasks. New designs estimate that BFR will be 106 meters tall and 9 meters wide which is smaller than earlier designs that put it at 122 meters high and 17 meters wide (Mars, 2018). The booster rocket is set to have 31 raptor engines down from 42 engines while the spacecraft will have 6 Raptor engine down from 9 (Mars, 2018). The new designs have significantly lowered the cost of development. The designs estimate the BFR to have a load capacity of 150000 kilograms which is a significant upgrade from Falcon Heavy's capacity of 30000 kilograms. The multiple engines of the spacecraft increase its reliability to that of a conventional airplane with the ability to land even when the engine malfunctions. The precision has also increased to a level that there would be no need for landing legs or wheels. With the completion of the project, it would be possible to transport humans to Mars by 2024.
Achieving Speed of Light using Warp Drives
One of the ways of achieving a faster than the speed of light is through warp drives. It is propulsion system thought to attain higher speeds than the light. A warp drive is based on Einstein's field equations that assert that a spaceship could attain higher speeds than that of light but only if negative mass existed (Weinert, 2016). This concept, named after Miguel Alcubierre, requires the folding of space before a bubble and expansion of space after the bubble. Theoretically, warp bubble entails sending a plasma (created by an antimatter reactor) through warp coils. The formation of warp bubble results in the contraction of space ahead, and expansion of space behind. The matter inside the bubble does not feel inertia effects but the bubble travels along space-time by riding the wave created by the contraction and expansion.
Designs to Counteract Radiation and Zero-Gravity in Space
Weightlessness and exposure to radiation in space have significant adverse health effects. Some of the effects of zero-gravity include loss of hand-eye coordination, locomotion, spatial orientation, and balance. On the other hand, radiation causes damage to cells and increases the risk of getting cancer. In order to prevent these effects, NASA conducted studies on the effects of weightlessness on an astronauts' health. From the study results, NASA developed ways of preventing these problems. In particular, the agency developed the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) to replace the interim Resistive Exercise Device (IRED) in 2008 (NASA, 2017). The new device showed better results in bone density and muscle strength.
On the other hand, NASA has developed hydrogenated nitride nanotubes commonly referred to as hydrogenated BNNTs. The BNNTs are small nanotubes made from carbon nitrogen, boron, and hydrogen which is scattered in the empty pores between the tubes. Since boron has excellent absorbent abilities of secondary neutrons, hydrogenated BNNTs are considered as perfect materials for radiation shielding. The strength of the material makes it suitable for structural uses (How to Protect Astronauts, 2015). Although they are still under development, scientists say that they are promising as excellent shielding and structural materials for use in spaceships, vehicles, and suits to be used on Mars.
How to Protect Astronauts from Space Radiation on Mars. (2015, September 30). Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/real-martians-how-to-protect-astronauts-from-space-radiation-on-mars
Matloff, G. L. (2006). Deep space probes: To the outer solar system and beyond. Springer Science & Business Media.
NASA - Advanced Resistive Exercise Device. (2017, August 30). Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1001.html
Sutton, G. P., & Biblarz, O. (2016). Rocket propulsion elements. John Wiley & Sons.
Weinert, F. (2016). Time Travel and Warp Drives, written by Allen Everett and Thomas Roman. KronoScope, 16(1), 148-151.
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