Soon we will be able to fly to Mars in 45 days

Soon we will be able to fly to Mars in 45 days

If it were up to NASA, we could shorten travel times in the solar system even more.

Therefore, the organization has invested in developing three engines that can accelerate our spacecraft to unprecedented speeds.

We can reach Mars in just 45 days. And while it took the Voyager 1 probe, for example, 35 years to reach the outer edge of the solar system, the new engines will be able to cover the same distance in a few years.

In short, we can get enough engine power to conquer the entire solar system. It only takes a few atoms to split, and a precise laser.

The travel time is too long

A spacecraft can only fly as fast as its fuel allows. The liquid fuel we use today is too heavy for spaceflight and can only accelerate a spacecraft for a short period of time before it runs out.

This means, for example, that a trip to Mars is realistic only about every 26 months, when the orbits of the two planets are positively parallel.

If one wanted to take the fastest way home, that would require a stay of 496 days on the Red Planet.

And now we are only talking about Mars, our neighboring planet. If we wanted to travel beyond the solar system, the travel time would be many years – even decades.

In short, we need engines that can make our spacecraft go faster.

The tortoise passes the hare

A conventional rocket uses a large amount of fuel and must shut off the engine after a few minutes.

A nuclear powered missile accelerates more slowly, but it can maintain acceleration for a much longer time and thus reach a higher speed.

The two most well-established nuclear technologies for spacecraft are hydrogen and ions.

In a nuclear powered hydrogen engine, the energy from splitting the atoms is used to heat the hydrogen gas emitted from the nozzle and thus generate thrust.

In the ion engine, the rocket reactor produces electricity that is used to strip electrons from the atoms in the xenon gas. The atomic nuclei, which now have a positive charge, are then directed out through the nozzle.

NASA is building a DRACO rocket, which combines the two types of engines and, according to engineers’ calculations, will be able to go to Mars in 100 days, more than twice the current speed.

But NASA has bigger plans for two brand new nuclear engines.

Split atoms can invade the solar system

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program selects the space technologies that show the greatest potential.

In the final selection round, three new engines received development funds.

The first, developed by researcher Ryan Goss at the University of Florida, is a nuclear-powered engine that combines hydrogen and ion technology, just like Draco.

What’s new here is that you’re outfitting the hydrogen part of the engine with what’s called a wave rotor. The rotor is driven by the pressure of hydrogen gas on its way to the engine, and torque is used to accelerate the gas further.

According to Goss, a ship built on this principle would be able to go to Mars in just 45 days, about five times the current speed.

The second nuclear engine in which NASA has invested is a step ahead of hydrogen and ion engines.

When a large atom splits into two smaller atoms in the reactor, the two smaller atomic nuclei are simply fired directly from the rocket — rather than using the energy to heat up the gas or shred electrons.

The challenge for this type of engine is particularly the storage of nuclear fuel, for example plutonium-239. The scientist behind the engine, Ryan Wade, has an ingenious solution: storing the fuel in an aerogel, which is made up of 99 percent voids and therefore has a volume Large storage for its size.

The Weed Nuclear Missile can fly up to 200 times faster than today’s missiles.

Thus, for example, it could reach Neptune in just one year — a journey that would take decades today — and it could open up the entire solar system to manned space travel.

Telescopes can find distant planets

If the revolutionary engines become a reality, they could facilitate one of astronomers’ greatest wishes: a space telescope that uses the sun itself as a lens to take detailed pictures of distant exoplanets.

The space telescope acts as a magnifying glass.

The telescope will take advantage of the fact that the Sun’s massive mass causes the space around the star to curve so that light from a planet behind it bends around the Sun and forms a ring of light around it. The telescope will convert the ring of light into an image that can, for example, show mountains, rivers and oceans on planets up to 100 light-years away.

The space telescope must be sent out beyond the solar system – at least 550 times the distance between Earth and the sun – in order to see the ring of light.

That journey would take at least a century with today’s rockets. But with a nuclear engine that uses gel air and shoots the splitting atoms out of the spacecraft, the flight could be accomplished in just 15 years.

Lasers can send us to other solar systems

While nuclear engines are already a well-known principle that will be further developed, NASA has also invested in developing something entirely new: thrust that does not originate from the spacecraft itself.

Artur Davuyan of the University of California has developed a concept where you launch a spacecraft and then send a target disc in its wake. Powerful laser pulses from Earth are then fired at the disk.

Each pulse rips tiny clumps of atoms from the surface of the disk. Clumps of microscopic particles rush in the same direction as the laser light and thus strike the back of the spacecraft.

All those little pushes give it such high speed that it can reach the solar telescope’s position in 15 years, just like Ryan Weade’s nuclear missile.

But laser propulsion has the potential for longer missions – to the outer limits of the solar system and beyond.

Artur Davuyan himself mentions the possibility of a so-called interstellar precursor mission, a journey to map space outside the solar system.

Such a mission would constitute initial preparations for a trip to our neighboring star, Proxima Centauri, where we could search for signs of life on alien planets.

The three new technologies have not yet been completed, but if they are installed in the spacecraft of the future, we will not only be able to colonize Mars and conquer the entire solar system, but also dream of other solar systems.

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Dalila Awolowo

Dalila Awolowo

"Explorer. Unapologetic entrepreneur. Alcohol fanatic. Certified writer. Wannabe tv evangelist. Twitter fanatic. Student. Web scholar. Travel buff."

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