Spacecraft with Interstellar Medium Momentum Exchange Reactions: the potential and limitations of propellantless interstellar travel

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D. Brisbin (2019), JBIS, 72, pp.116-124

Refcode: 2019.72.116
Keywords: Propellantless space travel, ISM, Electric sail, Magsail, Light sail, SWIMMER

Abstract:
All known interstellar transportation methods encounter monumental technological or engineering roadblocks, or even rely on speculative unknown science. In particular light of the recent public excitement and ensuing disappointment regarding the exotic “EM drive” it is worthwhile to point out that propellantless space travel is eminently possible based on well established physical principles. Here a new mode of transport is proposed which relies on electric-field moderated momentum exchange with the ionized particles in the interstellar medium. The application of this mechanism faces significant challenges requiring industrial-scale exploitation of space but the technological roadblocks are different than those presented by light sails or particle beam powered craft, and may be more easily addressed depending on the uncertain march of technology. This mode of space travel is well suited to energy efficient travel at velocities <0.05c and compares exceptionally well to light sails on an energy expenditure basis. It therefore represents an extremely attractive mode of transport for slow (~multi-century long) voyages carrying massive payloads to nearby stellar neighbors. This would be useful for missions that would otherwise be too energy intensive to carry out, such as transporting a generation ship or bulk materials for a future colony around Alpha Centauri A.

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