While the progress made by Voyager 1 space probe has continued to amaze the world, a scientist just proposed a pellet-beam propulsion spacecraft that could easily cover Voyager 1 distance in only five years. Keep in mind that the Voyager 1 was launched in 1977 and explored the solar system for nearly 35 years before entering interstellar space in 2012.
As of February 2023, NASA revealed that the Voyager 1 is exploring space at a distance of 59.39 AU (23.844 billion km; 14.816 billion mi) away from Earth. Despite the milestone attained by Voyager 1, a scientist is confident that the newly proposed pellet-beam propulsion spacecraft will overtake the 20th-century spacecraft in no time. What is the science behind the pellet-beam propulsion concept? Continue reading to find out.
Why Scientists are confident with Pellet-Beam Propulsion Concept
Assist Professor Artur Davoyan of the University of California, Los Angeles is the scientist behind this newly proposed pellet beam propulsion system. The scientists suggested that the propulsion concept will be powerful enough to send a large spacecraft into interstellar space in less than a decade. The primary goal of the new concept is to propel a spacecraft from our star system to another within our lifetime.
Unlike the Voyager 1 spacecraft which will take about 40,000 years to reach the closest star system to Earth, the pellet-beam propulsion concept will only travel a few decades to arrive at another star system. This futuristic concept was recently awarded a $175,000 grant by NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.
Davoyan will take advantage of this grant in bringing the pellet-beam propulsion concept to life. Keep in mind that chemical rockets currently used in exploring space are not fast enough to reach distanced planetary systems. However, a new concept like the pellet-beam propulsion system will likely change the way we explore space in the future.
How Davoyan Plans to Reach Interstellar Space with Pellet-Beam Propulsion Concept
Davoyan is one of the scientists hoping to change the way we explore space in the future. The assistant professor partly derived his inspiration from the Breakthrough Starshot, which is a $100 million initiative proposed by Russian Philanthropist Yuri Milner in 2016. The idea behind Breakthrough Starshot is that the space probe will be propelled into space using millions of lasers trained on a tiny space probe with a light sail.
The lasers were proposed to be powerful enough to send the Breakthrough Starshot to Proxima Centauri which is our nearest star in only 20 years. But unlike Breakthrough Starshot, Dayovan, and his team planned to use two spacecraft on the pellet-beam propulsion concept. One of these spacecraft would head toward interstellar space while the other spacecraft would remain in the orbit around Earth.
The orbital spacecraft would generate thousands of tiny metallic pellets which would be fired at the Interstellar spacecraft every second. The scientists also planned to align a laser fired from the ground-based technologies to the Interstellar spacecraft or fire a 10-megawatt laser beam at the interstellar probe from the orbital spacecraft. Whichever method they choose, their primary focus would rely on hitting the pellets with the laser which would heat them to a certain point that a layer will be eliminated to become plasma.
From that point, the plasma will accelerate the pellet remnants, making the pellet beam generate thrust that will propel the interstellar spacecraft at a great speed. In addition, the scientists are also proposing another alternative method where a magnetic field-generating device onboard the spacecraft could deflect the pellets and propel the space probe at a faster speed.
Dayovan proposed that the pellet-beam propulsion system could propel a 1-ton space probe at speeds of about 480,000 kilometers per hour (300,000 miles per hour). This implies that the spacecraft will be exploring interstellar space 10 times faster than chemical propulsion systems currently in use. At this speed, it will take the spacecraft about Voyager 1 spacecraft in only five years.
The $175,000 grant provided by NASA’s NIAC program to Dayovan and his colleagues will surely go a long way in the development of this futuristic propulsion concept. What do you think about this concept?