Graphic depiction of Pellet-Beam Propulsion for Breakthrough Space Exploration.
Today, multiple space agencies are investigating cutting-edge propulsion ideas that will allow for rapid transits to other bodies in the Solar System. These include NASA’s Nuclear-Thermal or Nuclear-Electric Propulsion (NTP/NEP) concepts that could enable transit times to Mars in 100 days (or even 45) and a nuclear-powered Chinese spacecraft that could explore Neptune and its largest moon, Triton. While these and other ideas could allow for interplanetary exploration, getting beyond the Solar System presents some major challenges.
As we explored in a previous article, it would take spacecraft using conventional propulsion anywhere from 19,000 to 81,000 years to reach even the nearest star, Proxima Centauri (4.25 light-years from Earth). To this end, engineers have been researching proposals for uncrewed spacecraft that rely on beams of directed energy (lasers) to accelerate light sails to a fraction of the speed of light. A new idea proposed by researchers from UCLA envisions a twist on the beam-sail idea: a pellet-beam concept that could accelerate a 1-ton spacecraft to the edge of the Solar System in less than 20 years.
The concept, titled “Pellet-Beam Propulsion for Breakthrough Space Exploration,” was proposed by Artur Davoyan, an Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The proposal was one of fourteen proposals chosen by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program as part of their 2023 selections, which awarded a total of $175,000 in grants to develop the technologies further. Davoyan’s proposal builds on recent work with directed-energy propulsion (DEP) and light sail technology to realize a Solar Gravitational Lens.Continue reading… “A Novel Propulsion System Would Hurl Hypervelocity Pellets at a Spacecraft to Speed it up”