I have been intrigued lately, especially with all the comet activity this year, as to how fast comets move, and why can’t we get our spacecraft to move that fast.
We all know about gravity assist for boosting spacecraft toward the outer solar system. But how can we use this to gain comet speed? This is intriguing to me because it would make interplanetary travel a better possibility.
Take comet ISON for instance. ISON was first spotted 585 million miles away in September 2012, now a little over a year later, it is passing by the Sun. ISON is traveling at 81,725 mph.
Compare that to the New Horizon spacecraft that set the record for the highest velocity of a human-made object from Earth at 36,373 mph. New Horizon accomplished this using a combination of monopropellant and gravity assist, and three planetary flybys (Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) over a five year period.
Although that is an impressive feat, five years to reach that speed is a bit too much for our purposes.
Researchers at the University of Huntsville in Alabama are using “dilithium crystals” (deuterium, a stable Hydrogen isotope, and a Lithium isotope, Li6, arranged in a crystal structure) to generate a fusion reaction for a new engine. This is the fusion impulse engine (like Star Trek) that would propel any spacecraft unattained speeds.
If it works, spacecraft powered by an engine like this could reach 62,600 mph in a relatively short distance. That would make interplanetary travel possible without all the long duration issues that current engines have.
– Ex astris, scientia –
I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine. As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +