Imagine a boy staring up at the night sky. We’ve all been that boy at some point in our lives. But the difference between us all is how deep into that black sky we are prepared to look. Some will just glance at the small dots of blinking light and quickly look away. But some of us will stop and think: “When will we ever travel there?” For all of you how still, from time to time, stop and think like that little boy, we prepared the latest updates about the civilization’s hopes of interstellar travel.
Of course, we are still very far away from developing a technology which would takes us as close as Alpha Centauri, the closest star to Earth when we exclude our Sun. Keep reading and see what kind of ideas our best scientists have about the ways to get to distant stars.
One of the reasons why our spaceships have such limited space travel capacity is the amount of fuel they would have to carry for long space travels. A key element to any distant-faring space vehicle will certainly be an alternative propulsion method. There is a new idea based on an old concept. These are pace sails which ships would deploy in space so they can capture solar energy.
Light comes in small packets of energy, but when you gather enough of these packets, you get a lot of thrust. Photons of light carry a tiny amount of momentum, but multiply it with billions… The best advantage of such a vehicle is the fact that it can keep accelerating steadily, as long as photons keep hitting the sail .Major drawback is the fact we would have to find a way to construct gigantic sails.
Ion propulsion is a proven concept in science fiction novels and movies, but still a dream on present day Earth. Still, scientists believe that ion engines will be constructed in the relatively near future. These machines work by accelerating charged fuel particles (usually the noble gas xenon) to harness their velocity. For example, conventional rockets can create about 5km/s of thrust. Ion engines can speed up the particles to anywhere from 15 to 35 km/s.
The most exotic propulsion method among the mentioned, the Alcubierre drive is theoretically the most demanding. It includes the notion that it is possible, rather that it will be possible, to modify spacetime. In more detail, this means that one day we will be able to travel by contracting spacetime in front of the ship and expanding spacetime behind it. This concept, however, is very far away from us. We still need to figure out a lot of physical phenomena to understand and build this kind of engine. Who knows, if we ever manage to understand the nature of dark matter and the hypothetical concept of negative mass, we might have the means to build an Alcubierre drive and fly away to galaxies far beyond.