Elon Musk and NASA just announced their new rocket called the Light Speed Engine, which defies physics and could take us to Mars in weeks instead of months.
They’re now testing it on their new spaceship called the Interplanetary Transport System. The following article will explain what the Speed Engine actually is, how it works, and why it could be such a game-changer in space travel!
To design an in-house, disruptive engine that would cut launch costs. The target: $5 million. NASA calls it a breakthrough, and Elon Musk calls it awesome. Why? Because a small team of engineers at NASA just tested what is being called a new type of rocket engine that can operate much more efficiently than anything currently on Earth. And if you’re thinking, how does one top something like that? Well…what if I told you that there are plans to make it even better? Much better.
Basically, NASA has just successfully test-fired a new type of engine that promises to make space travel cheaper and faster. Currently, most commercial and military rockets use chemical fuels which have to be pre-made on Earth and then loaded into rocket boosters prior to launch. Not only is this expensive and extremely complex, but it also limits how much weight can be lifted off of Earth’s surface. The new experimental engine? It runs on an alternative form of fuel: electricity…the kind you plug into your wall socket. It might sound crazy at first, but when you consider that 95% of everything you do in life involves using electricity at some point (from running your vacuum cleaner to flipping on a light switch), it doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore.
In September, Musk and a team of scientists at NASA announced their design for a revolutionary rocket they called The Raptor. It can withstand more than 500,000 pounds of thrust and run on liquid methane rather than traditional kerosene—meaning it would produce 30 percent less carbon dioxide emissions.
But to make its way into space, engineers first need to successfully demonstrate that it works here on Earth. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to do short flights, sort of up-and-down flights, probably sometime in the first half of next year, Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, told Mashable in an interview.
But what are they building? Basically, it’s a giant super-heavy-lift launch vehicle and booster rocket combo, capable of lifting 170 metric tons into low Earth orbit. To put that in perspective, Falcon Heavy, SpaceX’s newly operational heavy-lift rocket is capable of lifting 54 metric tons. That means a single Raptor engine could potentially replace all three first-stage Merlin engines used on today’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle.
The Raptor is also different from most traditional rockets in that it will run on liquid methane rather than kerosene—which has been used since the 1950s. Methane is cleaner and easier to produce than traditional rocket fuel, but also extremely difficult to handle. The amount of energy needed to liquefy methane means conventional rocket engines can’t use it as a propellant; they would burn up because they couldn’t contain such high pressure and heat. But SpaceX seems poised to figure out how to harness that power with Raptor. The experimental engine generates a whopping 420,000 pounds of thrust using methane as fuel and liquid oxygen (LOX) as an oxidizer, exceeding the current U.S.
Where does the power come from?
The EM Drive produces thrust by bouncing microwaves back and forth inside a closed chamber. The electromagnetic fields that result from these back-and-forths also produce an equal and opposite reaction, causing acceleration in one direction. In order to power it, you need to use solar energy or some other kind of outside energy supply, which could be another spacecraft (like a satellite) or even a ground station receiving radio waves. But so far, experiments with systems like these have been unable to create enough force to overcome drag—the slowing force created by friction between air molecules as an object moves through them—or make any meaningful changes in trajectory.
And now, researchers working on a NASA-funded study have found that what’s supposed to be impossible actually is—at least in some cases. A team at Eagleworks Laboratories has completed tests of an electromagnetic drive (EM Drive) under conditions similar to those you might experience in deep space. And they claim that these tests confirm a thrust-to-power ratio of 1 to 4, which is greater than any of their calculations predicted for such a device and could open up new possibilities for deep space exploration. The results have yet to be confirmed by other scientists, so we won’t know if they can be reproduced until independent teams get their hands on their own EM Drives and perform their own experiments—something that should happen in 2017.
The EM Drive is a controversial device. It goes against Newton’s third law, which states that everything must have an equal and opposite reaction. So, if you fire something out of a rocket ship, there will be something propelling it in another direction—even if it’s just air molecules bouncing off that thing when it leaves. The EM Drive doesn’t do that; it only produces thrust in one direction.
How does it work?
Elon Musk is taking science fiction a step closer to reality. His company, SpaceX, says it has created a thruster system that defies physics and has successfully tested it. The rocket propulsion system uses electrically charged gas and can achieve speeds up to 65 kilometers per second, or about 135 thousand miles per hour. The engine is made from super-lightweight carbon-fiber fuel tanks with cold gas thrusters. It doesn’t use any type of propellant, meaning it does not expel any byproducts into space. Instead, as Wired explains: The engine produces thrust by accelerating superheated plasma with magnetic fields, which also means there are no fumes being expelled from combustion.
These types of engines are known as electric thrusters, but they work very differently from those used in SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets. These thrusters create thrust by propelling pressurized gas, whereas electric ones produce a charged plasma that emits ions to push a craft forward. The electric engine developed by SpaceX is reportedly more powerful than conventional gridded ion thrusters and could power manned missions to Mars and beyond. It could also cut down on travel time for space-bound cargo because it requires less propellant, which can be expensive to launch into orbit. The technology is still being tested and further development is needed before it will be ready for space flight. It has been submitted for peer review, and NASA experts think it has potential – at least on paper.
Can we really travel in space at such high speeds?
Some say it’s impossible to travel at high speeds through space, but that hasn’t stopped Elon Musk from claiming he can do it. His idea is to create a light-speed engine that will take us to Mars in just 70 days. Such an engine defies physics and would mean traveling faster than 186,000 miles per second, but why has he chosen to do it? Why did NASA choose him to fund his idea? And if Elon can pull off what he claims is possible, what could we accomplish in space? To answer these questions let’s examine how light speed engines work.
There are a few ways that we could travel at light speed, but first, we need to understand how light works. As it travels through space, every atom in its path interacts with it. This slows it down and even stops it completely if there’s no matter around to pass through. Because of these interactions, light has a maximum velocity of 186,000 miles per second—meaning that’s as fast as it can go through empty space. Since nothing can travel faster than light without breaking physics rules, if we want to catch up with a distant star in our lifetime we have to find another way to get there besides traveling directly towards it.
How far away are we from light speed?
The current way that we measure speed is the distance over time. In order to travel at light speed, or 186,000 miles per second, you would need to accelerate past that velocity until your speed was 186,000 MPs, then hold it there for an infinite amount of time. This velocity is referred to as c and was defined by Albert Einstein in his theory of special relativity. We haven’t yet reached what most consider to be light speed although many experiments and theories suggest that we may one day be able to approach it or even surpass it within our lifetimes.
Until very recently, it has been generally accepted that nothing in our current state of technology could even begin to move at a velocity close to what we consider light speed. Some estimates place us thousands or even tens of thousands of years away from ever reaching it. That being said, we are often surprised by what science and technology are able to accomplish and scientists have now managed to make an engine capable of reaching a mere 10% of light speed, defying these previously held assumptions about what is possible for our technological capabilities in today’s day and age. The invention of an engine that could reach such high speeds would allow us to travel through space much more efficiently than before.
While it will take some time to perfect, if NASA has their way, within a decade we could see much faster space travel thanks to their revolutionary Light Speed engine. Though currently there is no word on who they’ll be competing against. (NASA) The two biggest competitors in commercial space travel are SpaceX and Blue Origin; these companies are both focused on moving into orbit and beyond using new tech developed by founder Elon Musk (SpaceX) and Amazon co-founder Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin). All three companies have met with varying levels of success so far; Blue Origin just successfully tested its BE-4 rocket engine last week while SpaceX also recently launched its Falcon Heavy rocket, though that didn’t quite end as well as they’d hoped since one of its rockets fell back to Earth.
Both SpaceX and Blue Origin have made vast leaps and bounds in space travel, with SpaceX making history a few years ago when it became one of only three private companies to ever launch a spacecraft into orbit and return it safely to Earth. In fact, earlier this year SpaceX launched its most powerful rocket yet with plans to send two tourists around the moon next year; if all goes according to plan they’ll be just two of seven private citizens ever to leave Earth’s orbit. (CNBC) All three companies are doing their best to make space travel commonplace, however, as both Blue Origin and SpaceX say they’re focused on transport rather than tourism NASA could very well be looking at sending people further afield than either company has planned for.
Musk’s engine represents a huge leap in mankind’s capability to traverse space and a massive point of progress for humanity. The technology could revolutionize our ability to travel among other planets, explore deeper parts of our solar system and even leave our galaxy. If successful, Elon Musk will go down in history as not only one of Silicon Valley’s most popular figures but also as a giant among scientists and engineers alike. This is definitely an exciting time to be alive!
But, what exactly is it? How does it work? To get answers to these questions and more, here are a few important things to know about Elon Musk’s engine: what it is, how it works, and why it’s been so hard for others to achieve before now. The technology behind hyper-speed travel has existed for quite some time but had always seemed something of a pipe dream. In order to travel faster than light—something scientists refer to as superluminal speed—you need a way to dramatically increase an object’s velocity through space.
Though physicists have known for years that you can only travel faster than light using a wormhole or warp drive, neither of these has ever been achieved by humans. Even with top minds across multiple fields focused on the issue, our most advanced technology still couldn’t achieve those speeds. We knew what we needed but just couldn’t figure out how to make it work. But, now we might have a way to get there. The ramifications of Musk’s new engine could be huge not only for space exploration but also here on Earth as well.
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