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The need for a new kind of propulsion

Posted by on January 1, 2017

Rockets! the massive plume of energy blasting away in space as we reach into the arms of the vast space that beckons with mysteries.

Since the last 1000 years, we humans have built rockets. The last 100 years has seen them become refined thanks to the world wars. Humans have mastered rockets and the Americans led the way in taming a million tons of explosives to take humans to the moon and back. All existing working rockets are gigantic explosives. They contain the most combustible materials known to humans. This gigantic explosive has been tamed to emit all it’s energy in one uniform beam at only one end of a rocket. This amazing technology and the power over flames will continue to fascinate us for centuries to come. That there was a time when humans strapped on explosives to explore the universe will be studied through our sentient existence on this planet.

A rocket and it’s working was give a mathematical basis by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a Russian pioneer who discovered the rocket equation

v= Ve ln(Mf/Mi)

What this means is that for a rocket to leave earth, it needs to have a high velocity “v” and this depends on just two factors. The mass ratio of the rocket and the exhaust velocity of its combustion products. There is nothing else that matters. The thrust, temperature, type of fuel, weight of rockets are all irrelevant.

All existing propulsion technologies achieve the velocity needed by burning gases at a high temperature. This “controlled explosion” has taken us this far. It is still fraught with danger and is not the safest means of transport that we humans have invented.

For us to advance further into the Space age, I feel that there is an urgent need for a new kind of propulsion. Some that is safe, non-explosive , reliable and provide large velocities approaching ~1% the speed of light and eventually approach the speed of light.

It’s funny when researchers say with conviction that it’s impossible to travel at the speed of light because of relativity. Relativity doesn’t predict anything impossible; it’s just that the theory breaks down as we approach the speed of light. It’s a limitation of the theory. We need a new theory to know what really happens when hit this wall hard enough. That practical data would be crucial in development of a new theory of Space-Time-Quantum nature of the universe.

So how do we go about building a new kind of a propulsion system. Something that is a marked departure from the last 100 years of our space faring? The answer is the new power bestowed on us by Nanotechnology and my favorite nanomaterial; Single Walled Carbon Nanotube.

Carbon Nanotubes have this unique ability to emit electrons at a low voltage. They are the best field emitters known to mankind. This allows for a micrometer sized ‘engine’ that is capable of ionizing a propellant and pushing it out with a high velocity by using an electric field. Due to the way it is fabricated, this would allow for a few billion engines to be fabricated in a 1 meter square. If each engine is a square of side 100microns and each engine is producing a 10micro Newtons of force. That translates to a 100million engines producing 1000N of force in a 1 meter area. This is enough to push a 100kg mass and keep it afloat on earth. With two engines, we can essentially keep a person afloat akin to what was envisioned in Back to the future. The engine would look like something from Star wars / Star Trek. A blue glowing engine with the glow coming from remnant ionized gases reacting with the atmosphere.

The initial work on this concept has already started at NoPo Nanotecnologies. If everything works out; this will be a gigantic step in our space faring future.

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