NASA’s Future Spaceships Will Travel At 1 Million Miles Per Hour - Science And Nature

Sep 21, 2022

NASA’s Future Spaceships Will Travel At 1 Million Miles Per Hour

Two highly promising concepts are being funded by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC). In terms of ISP and power levels, the new ion drives could have been five times better. The development of multi-megawatt ion engines and antimatter propulsion is ongoing.

What is the fastest spacecraft we have made?

Voyager 1 is travelling at a speed of 38,000 mph (61,000 km/h). Both a gravitational slingshot and a chemical rocket were mostly used to accomplish this. Using gravitational boosts, the Juno, Helios I, and Helios II spacecraft attained speeds in the 150,000 mph range. The Sun's gravity will let the recently launched Parker Solar Probe travel at 430,000 miles per hour.

Gravitational acceleration can increase the speed of a spacecraft by many times. However, using the gravity of Jupiter and the Sun to get more speed waste a lot of time. The spacecraft take many months to go around the Sun and get speed before starting the real mission.

Refueling a large rocket like the SpaceX BFR can produce surprisingly good trip times to Mars. Multiple orbital refueling of the SpaceX BFR at a high orbit can maximize the speed of the BFR. A fully fueled SpaceX BFR would shorten the one-way trip to Mars to as little as 40 days. A parabolic orbit would be used instead of a Hohmann transfer.

Space Missions to Mars have been small spacecraft. The entire mission was launched from Earth. This means most of the fuel was used to get the system off of the Earth. The final stage is tiny and slow. By refueling the SpaceX BFR in orbit, it is possible for a large chemically powered space mission with up to 10.0 kilometer per second Delta-V. This is about 100 hundred times larger than prior Earth to Mars missions and three times faster.


JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab) will be testing a 50000 ISP lithium ion thruster within 4 months. This is part of a NASA NIAC phase 2 study to use lasers to beam 10 megawatts of power to new ion drives. Many people are not aware of the recent progress with more powerful lasers. The US military is developing arrays of lasers that can produce 100 kilowatts within the next 2 years. The military should have megawatt laser arrays by around 2025. Laser beam-powered lithium-ion drives ten times faster than any previous ion drive. A spacecraft with this system would take less than a year to get to Pluto.

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