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Theoretical Spacecraft Propulsion Technology

Bulky and Expensive Rockets Used Today

Alan R Graham portrait picture. Alan R Graham is author of the philosophy of science proposal, Time's Paradigm, unraveling the myths and mysteries of time.
Space exploration is an integral feature of his thesis.

Article: Nov 6th, 2022

Why don't Elon Musk, NASA and others, spend more time and money on discovering new ways to lift vehicles off into space, rather than using conventional rockets?

Perhaps, secretly, they are. If not, they should be.

It has been over a hundred years since rocket engines were first proposed for vehicle propulsion - and then utilized to devastating effect by Wherner von Braun in WWII. They are an outdated technology. Since that time, we have invented lasers, the internet, solar panels, smartphones and supersonic flight. Why do space agencies and private contractors continue to spend billions sticking extremely dangerous and ridiculously heavy, ten story high, metal tubes full of volatile propellants under a tiny spacecraft, just to get the darn thing 50 miles up?

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Escape velocity is crucial to their success because they are fighting gravity, but as Einstein theorized on efforts to reach the speed of light, "One would eventually need an infinite amount of energy, and energy equals mass." Is that where the Elon Musks and Jeff Bezoses of this world are heading?

The Redundancy of Rocket Engines

The vehicles, satellites, cargo being hoisted up into space are a few tons at best, the rocket/rockets strapped beneath them are several thousand tons at least. They cost the earth, they are finicky, huge, environmentally unfriendly, are usually throwaway and pollute both oceans and near space. The only thing going for such propulsion technology is their phallic prowess. Isn't it time to look at some alternatives?

Rocket engines fight gravity the old fashioned way, with equal and opposite thrust in a vertical configuration. Sir Richard Branson had a thought. Suppose we lift our spacecraft by cheaper aerodynamic forces first - transversely - under the wing of an aircraft to close to the stratosphere, before releasing it in the final stage. In the lightweight world of lifting, he and his Virgin Galactic engineers used existing technology to inspiring lengths. But ultimately, heavyweight lifting is what is required to reach the Moon and Mars beyond.

Instead of considering the Earth the monstrous mass we must fight against, why not consider space, and gravity's effect upon it, the villain we must oppose? We have built magnificent machines like the CERN Hadron Collider, we have magnificent minds and magnificent new materials on offer. Gravity is the bending of space; start thinking... As did theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre in 1994 with his Alcubierre Drive, although the proposed propulsion technology required anti-matter to function, a decidedly deadly exotic material that hopefully only actually exists in theory.

Electromagnetic Propulsion Technology

I envisage the likes of something far simpler, after all, Alcubierre's proposal was for a drive system that would catapult a spacecraft beyond the speed of light - a relative taboo. No, I foresee the comings of an electromagnetic propulsion system weighing no more than a few tons, powered by a small, nuclear generator - as are already in use - a scale model of which, no bigger than a toaster, could be powered by a 9v battery. And, no, I'm not going to tell you how to do it, if you can't figure it out for yourself you are hardly made of the right stuff to win a Nobel Prize.

We need to pinch space beneath the payload, detach it from Earth's grasp, then let it float away. The spacecraft will rise of its own accord, how convenient of it - how obliging - no expensive and dangerous propellants necessary. You see, when a rocket lifts off it already has a ground velocity of half a kilometer per second, or 1000 miles per hour: the speed of Earth's rotation at the equator. Once in flight, that transverse trajectory becomes an imaginary straight line while the surface of Earth curves away beneath it, so any unhinged spacecraft will naturally ascend if not tethered by gravity.

The speed of Earth's rotation would be the catapult in respect of our neutralized lift off, imparting no stress or horrible G-forces on crew, cargo or passengers. Unlike a rocket ship that reaches space in minutes, our craft might take an hour or more. How pleasant, enjoy the ride, we are in no hurry. What more incentive does one need to get to work on theoretical spacecraft propulsion technology?

What's the hold up? I suspect it's due to the same myopia fossil fuel advocates are cursed with. "Don't mess with the status quo," they shout, while lining their pockets. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Electricity, and its cousin, EMR, is where the future of spacecraft propulsion lies. Not in chemical explosives, supercooled liquid gases or the mixing of minerals invented 1000 years ago by the Chinese. They require we light a fuse, stand back - and pray.

Instead, let's light a fuse under innovation, Elon, Richard, Jeff.

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Articles by the same author:

Time Traveler's Guide

Gyroscopes are Spinning Magnets

The Meaning of Life


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