A NASA engineer presents the concept of a ship that would fly almost at the speed of light
NASA engineer David Burns said it will be a spacecraft capable of traveling to remote stars at the speed of light and all this would be possible thanks to the helical engine, which does not require fuel to generate thrust and would act as ion accelerator, under the conditions of low friction existing in outer space. Science Alert reports.
Burns’s controversial idea is based on exploiting the way in which mass can change at ‘relativistic velocities’, that is, those that approach the speed of light in a vacuum. However, this possibility has not been considered by experts so far. Moreover, its concept violates the laws of physics as we know them.
“I feel comfortable proposing it,” Burns told New Scientist magazine. “If someone says it doesn’t work, I’ll be the first to say it was worth a try.”
To explain the hypothetical engine principle, Burns described a box with a load inside, but no friction with the surface. The ends of the load are joined by springs that connect it to the walls of the box. The effect is that, in a vacuum, the box will oscillate, while the load will remain motionless. If the mass of the load suddenly increases during oscillations, this will cause a thrust.
According to special relativity, objects gain mass as they approach the speed of light. Then, if the weight is replaced with ions and the box with a loop, in theory, it can be achieved that the ions move faster at one end of the loop and more slowly at the other.
But the ‘Burns engine’ is not a single closed circuit. It is helical, like a stretched spring, hence the term “helical motor”.
— New Scientist (@newscientist) October 11, 2019
In these circumstances, ions are the charge, and the box is the circuit in which the particles move. The ions accelerate at moderate relativistic speeds, after which their mass begins to change slightly. They move back and forth along the contour, creating thrust in a certain direction.
In the case of a helical motor, the spiral must reach about 200 meters in length and 12 meters in diameter, according to Burns’s calculations. In addition, 165 megawatts of energy will be needed to produce thrust, Newton.
However, Burns believes that his proposal has potential for the future, in conditions of a low friction environment such as outer space.