space propulsion

"TRON" Style Beam-propelled Solar Sailing

The original movie "TRON" featured a breathtaking scene in which a Solar Sailer zips across the virtual world of the Grid on a beam of concentrated energy. The new film, "TRON: Legacy" will provide moviegoers with an updated vision of the vehicle (skip to 2:09 in the trailer) when it opens this week. The coolest part, however, is that this might become humanity's actual means of traveling to other star systems.

Fusion Runway to the Stars

Whether you're a marathon runner, a dayvan cowboy or an interstellar spaceship, you're going to need to refuel along the way. Marathoners can just reach out and accept a cup of water from volunteers, and countless gas stations await pit stops from road-tripping van enthusiasts. But just where's a star ship supposed to tank up on fuel? The fusion runway concept offers one possible answer. I chatted with Tau Zero Foundation writer Paul Gilster on just this topic the other day and yes, scientists have given some serious thought to the fuel woes of interstellar travel.

Warp Speed Fuel Costs

I recently wrote a Discovery Space piece titled "Is Warp Speed Possible?" and the fuel efficacy issues really fascinate me. How much energy would you need to outrun a beam of light on a jaunt across the galaxy? First, let's refresh on warp speed travel. According to Einstein's theory of special relativity, light is the universal speed limit. Nothing travels through space faster, and approaching it causes time to slows down and mass to become infinite. In other words, cosmic fat days last FOREVER.

Project Orion: Nuking Our Way to Mars

Have you ever watched an action hero fly through the air, propelled in slow motion by the massive explosion erupting behind them? This slice of cinematic cheese gives you a decent taste of how NASA considered propelling spacecraft in the 1950s and 1960s. Dubbed Project Orion (not to be confused with NASA's more recent Orion spaceship project), this crazy-sounding propulsion system depended on nuclear warheads. You read that right, not mere nuclear power but actual nuclear detonations.