A NASA scientist has discovered a new concept for an engine that he says can move “near the speed of light” all without any moving parts or need for fuel.
The paper, written by David Burns from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, discusses a “helical engine” that can be used to travel throughout interstellar distances, send astronauts to the moon in approximately one second and Mars in less than 13 minutes, based on The Sun, which first reported the news.
Burns wrote in the newspaper A new concept for in-space propulsion is proposed in which propellant isn’t ejected from the engine, however, instead is captured to produce a nearly constant specific impulse. The engine accelerates ions enclosed in a loop to moderate relativistic speeds also then varies their velocity to make slight adjustments to their mass. Then the engine moves ions back and forth alongside the direction of travel to produce thrust. This in-space engine might be used for long-term satellite station-keeping without refueling.”
“It might additionally propel spacecraft throughout interstellar distances, reaching near the speed of light,” Burns added within the abstract. “The engine consists of no moving parts other than ions traveling in a vacuum line, trapped inside electric and magnetic fields.”
Burns’ concept is novel because it completely removes one of the heaviest components of space flight fuel.
NASA is looking into the possibility of utilizing ice and water on the surface of the moon as rocket fuel; however, any potential solution would probably be years, if not decades, away.
The concept, which Burns admitted he isn’t sure is viable, takes inspiration from high-tech particle accelerators, related to what is seen on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.
“If someone says it does not work, I will be the first to say, it was worth a shot,” Burns stated in an interview with New Scientist. “You have to be ready to be embarrassed. It is very tough to invent something that’s new under the sun and works.”