Can new technologies make space travel a reality?

What has long been considered science fiction is commonplace today. So, most recently, in real-time, the whole world watched an amazing space show – the launch of the Crew Dragon manned spacecraft on the ISS. Today it may seem that the first manned flight into space was a very long time ago, but if you look at the speed of technological development, it is staggering: the first rocket in history to study the parameters of the air environment was launched only 83 years ago! During this time, the Internet appeared in the world, as well as Falcon9 rockets from SpaceX, which return and land automatically. So maybe the technology of the future will make space travel a reality?

Interstellar travel

Which of us in childhood did not dream of interstellar travel? Yes there, I don’t know about you, but I still dream that one day a flying saucer will land next to the house and invite you on a tour of the boundless Universe. Is it any wonder, because interstellar travel is the main product of science fiction series. One way or another, with the development of technology – from the famous Boston Dynamics songs and the beautiful robot Sofia to more advanced rockets and space probes – the question arises: is it worth hoping that someday we will colonize the stars? Or, if we discard this distant dream, can we send space probes to alien planets and use them to see what is happening there?

Space discovery

The truth is that interstellar travel and exploration are technically possible. There is no such law of physics that would directly forbid it. But this does not mean that humanity will soon invent such technologies. Interstellar travels are a real headache and in our century, people will definitely not fly to colonize other stars. But there is good news – we have already reached the status of interstellar research. Several spacecraft are moving to the edge of the solar system, and leaving it will never return. The missions of NASA Voyager, Pioneer and New Horizons began their long journey outside.

Agree, it sounds great: we have interstellar space probes that work. But the problem is that they are in no hurry. Each of these fearless interstellar explorers travels at a speed of tens of thousands of kilometers per hour. They do not move in the direction of any particular star, because their missions were designed to study the planets inside the solar system. But if any of these spacecraft were headed for our closest neighbor, Proxima Centauri, located just 4 light years from Earth, they would have reached it in about 80,000 years.



All of this is very cool, but NASA’s budget is unlikely to last that long. In addition, by the time the probes have reached something interesting, their instruments will stop working and ultimately will simply fly through the void. In fact, this is a kind of success: human ancestors did not look like guys who could launch robotic vehicles with gold plates on board into space.

Speed ​​matters

To make interstellar flights more “reasonable,” the probe must move very fast. About one tenth of the speed of light. At this speed, the spacecraft can reach Proxima Centauri in a few decades, and in a few years send pictures back – and all this within the limits of human life. Is it really so stupid to want the same person who started the mission to finish it?

But driving at such speeds requires a huge amount of energy. One option is to contain this energy on board the spacecraft as fuel. But if so, then additional fuel adds weight, which makes it even more difficult to accelerate to the desired speeds. There are projects and sketches of atomic spacecraft that are trying to achieve just that, but if we do not want to start building thousands and thousands of nuclear bombs just to put them in a rocket, we need to come up with something else.

Voyager 2
Voyager 2

According to Discover, perhaps one of the most promising ideas is to keep the energy source of the spacecraft stationary and somehow transport this energy to the spacecraft as it moves. One way to do this is with lasers. Radiation transfers energy well from one place to another, especially over vast distances in space. Then the spaceship can capture this energy and move forward.

But when it comes to making the spacecraft move at the required speed, the laser itself, with a capacity of 100 gigawatts, is many orders of magnitude more powerful than any laser we have ever designed. A spacecraft, the mass of which should not exceed the mass of the paper clip, should include a camera, computer, power source, circuit, shell, antenna for communication with the house, and a perfectly reflecting light sail. The real journey will begin after accelerating to one-tenth of the speed of light. For 40 years, this small spaceship will have to withstand all the tests of interstellar space. And although such technologies today seem to be something of the category of science fiction, there is no such law of physics that would prohibit its existence. The question is this: are we ready to spend enough money to find out if such a ship can be built?

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Author: John Kessler
Graduated From the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Previously, worked in various little-known media. Currently is an expert, editor and developer of Free News.
Function: Director
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