Recently, I have done much research on this topic as well as other forms of technology related to the challenge of making interstellar travel a reality. As part of the NASA HAS (High School Aerospace Scholar) Program, I will be going to the JSC for a week in Houston in July to discuss going to and living on Mars and going beyond.
Warping the future of space travel
Research: Chapter 1
As the current generation of space travel set their crosshairs on Mars, other targets remain out of range. For years man has dreamed of visiting the distant stars but the only thing that continues to explore this endeavor is our imaginations. To make this vision become a reality, several breakthroughs will need to materialize. Speed
Interstellar travel presents a wealth of problems that must be dealt with. Perhaps the most significant, the velocity of the vessel must reach unfathomable speeds when compared to today’s standards. Within the past fifty years, physicists and scientists have determined that a propulsion system which does not utilize propellant is the only feasible means by which this goal can be achieved. Alcubierre Drive
One approach to FTL(Faster-than-Light) velocities would be to contract the fabric of spacetime in front of a vessel while expanding it behind the vessel— Such a theory has been devised by physicist Miguel Alcubierre. To do this gravity would need to be manipulated and produced. Thus far, small amounts of progress have been made to artificially produce gravity, let alone manipulate it. In theory, negative energy would be used to curve spacetime, in effect, ‘warping spacetime’. This bubble would drastically distort spacetime that it might slip into another dimension where the laws of physics are different, where the speed of light is many times faster. In addition, the adverse effects inertia and time dilation would not be present due to the protection of the bubble. http://www.popsci.com/popsci/aviationspace...cm1000004eecbcc
drcrd.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcubierre_dr...science_fiction Burkard-Heim theory
Another recently proposed idea applies ideas of the deceased physicist, Burkhard Heim. By creating an intense magnetic field around the vessel with a superconductor, a gravitational field would be generated. Similar to the Alcubierre Drive, this gravitational field would result in thrust and would also cause the vessel to ‘slip’ into another dimension. Once a gravitational field has been established, it is speculated that the spacecraft defy inertia and time dialation. It is important to note, however, that this proposal circumvents Einstein’s theory of Relativity while traveling at millions of miles per second. Still, a lot remains to be researched and experimented from these claims. http://news.scotsman.com/scitech.cfm?id=16902006 http://www.newscientist.com/channel/fundam...925331.200.html
Interstellar travel within resonable time would thus implyFTL Communications
When some form of propulsion comes into fruition allowing great distances to be traveled, it’s likely that those back on Earth would be eager to hear about any adventures this superluminal vessel might encounter. Currently, all forms of transmissions are limited by the speed of light. Because few space endeavors prompt the need for faster-than-light communication, a large enough interest has not been generated to pursue any loopholes to the laws of physics.
New theories suggest that superluminal communication may be possible via quantum entanglement, in which subatomic particles of virtually no mass interact with each other. Some speculate that these subatomic particles can be propagated to send data faster than the speed of light.
Another idea for faster-than-light communications would be to propagate signals through the existence of particles that may travel much faster than light. Otherwise known as Tachyons, these particles have yet to be detected or proven to exist; nevertheless, some scientists speculate that they are undetectable at the moment.
Because of the unknown variables associated with faster-than-light travel, signals may not be able to reach the ship if it is in some kind of bubble. Also, a viable application in the present time for this technology would be the exploration of Mars. Currently, it takes between 8 and 40 minutes to send/receive data, whereas it could be reduced real time communication. Radiation
Long journeys into the cosmos will be an assault on the human body. Various types of radiation will be able to penetrate the hull and slowly but surely taint the entire crew with some form of cancer.
Recently, new developments in electrostatic shielding have been made. The idea of producing an electric field that would envelope a space vehicle has been proposed before, but other obstacles, such as awkward, constricting designs rendered it impractical. Today, new inventive solutions have been made to address these problems. By placing electrically charged spheres along the axis of the ship, it may be possible to repel any harmful radiation.
Skeptics point out that many problems remain. One such would be the designs susceptibility to short circuiting. Others believe this will not pose a threat, but only time will tell.http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/te...eld_040527.html http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2005/24...ctrostatics.htmFood/Nutrients
Lengthy Voyages into space mean that bringing sufficient food from Earth will be impractical. Plant physiologists are looking into ways in which plant growth will be maximized. Each component of ultraviolet light, nutrients, carbon dioxide, and temperature is critical to growing plants with the best yield. http://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/livingthi...biofarming.htmlArtificial Gravity
Because of the debilitating effects of zero-g, it is crucial that a way to manipulate gravity become a reality. Even though the spinning of cylindrical would create artificial gravity, it would be an engineer’s nightmare to design. Just several months ago, physicists discovered a way to develop a gravitational field. By using a superconductor rotating at a high velocity, a gravitational field one hundred millionths of the acceleration due to Earth’s gravity was produced. If this experiment is confirmed by others, it would qualify as a breakthrough for quantum physics. Some of these applications would include artificial gravity aboard spacecraft and the controversial warp drive.http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/GSP/SEM0L6OVGJE_0.htmlThrust-vectoring Antimatter engines
When the spacecraft must perform maneuvers and orbital insertion, a means of propulsion other than a ‘warp drive’ must be used. Only a few grams of Antimatter would be enough to provide all of the maneuvers in a ship’s lifetime (or at least for a very long time). When matter and antimatter collide, a huge amount of energy is released with one-hundred percent efficiency. Still, a few obstacles need to be overcome. For now, the prospect of antimatter engines is just out of grasp.http://science.howstuffworks.com/antimatter2.htm
On a sidenote, roll, pitch, and yaw currently utilize hypergolic chemicals to produce bursts of thrust. Due to the limited amount of fuel need to perform many manuevers, a new propulsion method that is not necessarlily powerful, but efficient will be required. Ion engines are extremely capable of this. Ion thrusters can deliver one order of magnitude greater fuel efficiency than traditional liquid fuel rocket engines, but are constrained to very low accelerations by the power/weight ratios of available power systems.Fusion
A power source capable of producing enough power for years at a time for all systems aboard a ship must be realized. Nuclear fusion has the potential to meet this criteria. Because its energy yield is many times that of nuclear fission, it can produce a wealth of energy with very little mass. For several decades, research has been performed to utilize this form of power. It is speculated that within the next decade or two, nuclear fusion will proliferate as a main energy source due to its clean and minimal byproducts. http://www.newscientisttech.com/article/dn...reen-light.html
Some day, all of these proposals will come into fruition. It is simply a matter of time. The big ideas of today, which might seem far-fetched, drive the future of tomorrow. The future of space travel depends on it. A crappy drawing of mine of a spaceship joining these ideas