8 Technologies (in Theory) for Interstellar Travel

What will the spacecraft of the future look like?

How will they be propelled as they travel to far off planets and galaxies?

We examine the new engines and fuels that will propel future journeys to the stars.

1. Nuclear Power

The Orion Mars spacecraft would use the power of a nuclear blast to lift off from remote desert areas.

A Saturn V rocket could also carry the Orion spacecraft to orbit; it would then leave Earth’s orbit for its trip to the Red Planet.

The Orion Mars spacecraft has a 4-crew cabin, 2 Mars landers, and enough small nuclear devices to prepare the ship to and from Mars.

It is under development by NASA with a first mission planned for 2023; nuclear power is but one propulsion option.

2. Fusion Drive

A fusion drive 300x greater specific impulse (efficiency) than conventional chemical rocket engines; mass travel time would be cut in half.

Inverse electrically charged particles compressed and accelerated to the speed of light before they leave the spaceship’s propulsion system.

Fusion drives are used in the Star Trek series, Star Wars movies and many other science-fiction books, computer games and films.

The enormous power of fusion reaction for energy generation has not yet been utilized, but the technology may not be far off.

3. Magnetic Funnel

First proposed by American physicist Robert W. Bussard in 1960. He works primarily in nuclear fusion energy research.

Charged particles from space are collected using a large magnetic scoop, and are funneled to the onboard fusion reactor for conversion to fuel.

According to Bussard, a 1000-ton starship with hundred percent reactor efficiency would accelerate almost indefinitely, but the scope’s diameter needs to be hundred kilometres.

Calculations have shown that the thrust of the engine may not be enough to overcome drag caused by such an enormous funnel.

4. Solar Or Light Sales

Derive from James C.Maxwell’s discovery in 1873 that light reflected in the a mirror applied pressure to the mirror.

Since photons have mass then, with the low friction of space, a craft is able to travel without the need for bulky engines and onboard fuel.

Disadvantages include its dependence on a high flux of protons to give the craft acceleration, plus the construction of solar-power relays.

Sails using solar wind or the light from stars are also less efficient the further away you get from the sun.

5. ION Drives

Science has proved that causing two atoms to fuse into a single atom generates a large amount of energy.

Instead of chemical reactions in modern rockets, the ion propulsion system utilizes controlled fusion reactions.

The drive does not use much fuel, but requires a lot of electricity which can be provided by solar panels on nuclear reactors.

Ion thrusters have been used on many spacecraft, including those that explored the asteroid Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres.

6. Electromagnetic Engine

The ICARUS Project includes spacecraft powered by electromagnetic VASIMR (variable specific impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket) engines.

The engines use radio waves to ionize and heat a propellant, and magnetic fields to accelerate the resulting plasma to generate trust.

The VASIMR is capable of taking a spaceship as far as 1,000 AU (1AU is the distance between the Earth and Sun).

Project Icarus is in its concept stage, and no definitive design has been chosen for its Starfinder and Pathfinder crafts.

7. Seabre Engine

Currently in the concept stage, the SKYLON is a reusable single stage-to-orbit launch vehicle, powered by a new engine technology.

The space plane is prepared by a pair of SABRE hypersonic precooled hybrid air breathing rocket engines.

Unlike ramjet or scramjet engines, the SABRE design provides high thrust from zero speed up to make 5.5, from the ground to very high altitude.

The SKYLON is envisioned for a wide variety of missions; it can carry 16.5 tons of payload into low-earth orbit.

8. Antimatter Rocket

A matter/antimatter reaction releases a 100 times more energy (per mass of fule) than even the most powerful nuclear reaction.

An antimatter rocket’s fuel contains small pellets containing deuterium and tritium-heavy isotopes of hydrogen each pellet would be surrounded by Uranium.

Antiprotons are slammed into the uranium nuclei, generating high-energy fission that ignites  fusion reactions in the fuel.

Antiproton-driven fusion is not new; it is a promising technology but there are problems that need to be solved to make it feasible.