Limitless Space Institute encourages research on the warp engine (traveling faster than light)

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Mankind dreams of one day being able to easily travel to the solar system and far beyond. Unfortunately, the laws of physics limit the speed at which we can move through the universe. However, the hope remains for the Alcubierre metric, which would allow a faster than light journey without violating the principle of relativity – a theory that has been explored for years by former NASA scientist Dr. Harold “Sonny”. White.

Harold White worked hard on the development of a warp engine (running on the Alcubierre metric) while working onAdvanced Propulsion Physics Research Laboratory from NASA. In 2020, he co-founded with former astronaut Brian Kelly the Limitless Space Institute (LSI), a non-profit organization whose mission is “to inspire and educate the next generation to travel beyond our solar system and support research and development of enabling technologies.”

The growing support organization now has the resources to award research scholarships to schools and universities – these grants range from less than $ 100,000 to two-year postdoctoral fellowships, more than $ 90,000 a year. Several big names in the space sector, including several retired astronauts, have already joined the organization. Gwynne Shotwell, Chief Operating Officer for SpaceX, recently joined the institute as an independent advisor.

An increasingly plausible concept

If the institute today has a financial support a priori comfortable, the concept of the engine with distortion remains to this day within the field of science fiction. According to the theory of relativity, the speed of light is constant and absolute, and objects approaching it experience an increase in their mass of inertia; therefore, it would require an extreme amount of energy to keep accelerating.

The Alcubierre metric – named after the Mexican theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre, who proposed it in 1994 – involves a distortion of space-time that would contract in one direction and expand in the other. ” By pure local extension of space-time behind the spacecraft and reverse contraction in front of it, movement faster than the speed of light seen by observers outside the disturbed area is possible. writes the physicist in his article on the warp engine.

So in theory, an engine based on this model would allow a ship to travel at super-light speeds in this chain while still respecting the laws of physics. But as Alcubierre himself concluded, this concept requires an energy density that is less than that of the vacuum of space – that is, negative mass, “exotic” matter, whose existence remains purely theoretical.

While Alcubierre’s research predicted an immense amount of negative mass (equivalent to Jupiter’s mass!) That exceeded all that humanity can create, a revision of his calculations of Dr. White in 2011 finally in a more “reasonable” amount. To do this, he reconsidered the “shell thickness” parameter of the warp bubble: a thicker warp shell would reduce the pressure of space-time, allowing a spacecraft to reach speeds of up to 10 times the speed of light using only two metric tons of exotic material. The warp engine therefore became more conceivable.

A three-step research program

It remains to find a way to generate negative energy in a vacuum. This is a bit of the raison d’être of LSI, which pursues the dream of letting humanity make long-distance space travel in a reasonable amount of time. To develop this still unknown physics, LSI adopted a three-stage research plan that involved various types of increasingly advanced propulsion: 1) nuclear power, 2) fusion electric propulsion, and 3) warp drives.

Limitless Space Institute’s three-step program for the development of interstellar flight. © LSI

Nuclear electric propulsion (NEP) – already widely studied by NASA and other space agencies for future exploration purposes – relies on Hall effect thrusters, which ionize inert gases to create charged plasma, which is used to generate propulsion. The concept, which is based on well-known physics, has already proven itself through various experiments. White and his colleagues are working on a NEP engine capable of generating 2 to 50 MW of power that would allow rapid transit to the outer solar system.

Visiting other star systems, including Proxima Centauri (Proxima Centauri), on the other hand, will require much more power, which only fusion electric propulsion (FEP) is likely to provide. ” Instead of fission and uranium we use deuterium and tritium or a combination of gases that we could melt together at very high temperatures in the form of a plasma says White. Such an engine could deliver an output of between 50 and 500 MW and lead us to Proxima Centauri in a hundred years. To further reduce travel time, we must find a way to connect relativity and quantum mechanics, or find a “theory of everything”.

The activities of LSI and its partners (NASA, MIT, Texas A&M University) as well as its grant program aimed at promoting space exploration research can lead to major breakthroughs that will approach the target faster than expected. ” Establish the ability to send people to all destinations in the solar system – think about it! Having an entire solar system of materials and resources would change the very concept of scarcity “, White said The universe today, adding that having this ability implies that our planet will necessarily be in a very different position when it comes to energy production and use. Traveling beyond the limits of our solar system could therefore be a way of preserving our own planet.

Source: Universe Today

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