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Star trek-style warp drive may be possible

Last Updated: Sunday, October 7, 2012 - 18:15

Washington: It would take around six to eight months to get to one of our nearest neighbours, Mars using conventional spaceship engines.

Though ideas like warp drives are still theoretical, scientists say it might be possible to cut that trip to Mars down to as few as three months using a form of fusion fuel — “dilithium crystals, just like ‘Star Trek,’ reported.

In the sci-fi series, the crystals are a rare substance that the crew spend an inordinate amount of time searching for, and their engines can use it to travel faster than the speed of light.

By comparison, this engine being developed at the University of Hunstville by a team working in collaboration with Boeing, NASA and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, would be about twice as fast as the best current technology.

According to Txchnologist, General Electric’s online tech magazine, this fusion reactor would be fueled by “a few tonnes” of deuterium (a heavy isotope of hydrogen) and lithium-6 (a stable molecule of lithium) in a crystalline structure.

When the deuterium and the lithium-6 are forced together under high pressure they undergo a fusion reaction — a process which they’re still trying to turn into a net producer of energy. While fusion isn’t yet a viable fuel source, recent developments in the field seem to indicate that we can’t be far away.

The engine, dubbed the “Charger-1 Pulsed Power Generator”, would be constructed in space along with the rest of the spaceship to avoid the tricky engineering difficulties of getting all that delicate fusion equipment up through the atmosphere — just like the International Space Station.

Once ready, the reactor would be engaged, and millions of amps are passed through super-thin lithium wires in 100 nanosecond pulses — this could generate up to three terrawatts of power. Those wires vaporise into plasma, which is collapsed onto the core of deuterium and lithium-6, inducing a fusion reaction.

The energy from that would be forced out the back of the ship in a so-called “z-pinch” using a “magnetic nozzle”, a component which the team are also developing. (ANI)


First Published: Sunday, October 7, 2012 - 18:15

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