Whether it’s Elon Musk’s Space X program, NASA or the Chinese space agency CNSA – they all have the same goal: a manned space mission to Mars!
And this trip could be much faster than previously thought. Canadian researchers have now developed an engine with which spacecraft can travel to Mars in just 45 days. With technologies known so far, this journey will take at least six months.
But: Mars missions can only be performed every 26 months. Since both Mars and Earth revolve around the Sun, they only come close to each other in this period of time. At the best of times, the distance between the two planets is “only” 56 million kilometers. For comparison: the maximum distance is about 400 million kilometers.
But how does the new technology work? When is it ready to use? BILD has the answers.
How does the new technology work?
Engineers at McGill University in Montreal (Canada) have developed a “laser thermal propulsion system”. The basic principle is relatively simple: several lasers of 100 megawatts, each ten meters in diameter, are placed on the ground. Together, they shoot a directed laser beam at the spacecraft that was in orbit at the time. The beam is captured by an inflatable reflector (a kind of large solar array).
The laser energy is then focused and directed to the fuel compartment inside the spacecraft. It contains hydrogen that is heated and ignited. This creates thrust, which is derived through the nozzle and acts as a motor. The spaceship jumped to Mars at an amazing speed of 60 thousand km / h.
By the way: The idea of laser propulsion of spaceships has been around for a long time (BILD reported).
When the spacecraft absorbs enough energy, the reflector is detached and returned to Earth. Feature: The reflector can be recycled and used on another mission to Mars.
Problem: If the spacecraft arrives shortly before Mars, it will still be too fast. So its speed must be slowed down, otherwise it will crash on the surface of the planet.
It would be necessary to have a so-called atmospheric entrance there. The spacecraft is touching the upper layer of Mars’ atmosphere. This friction slows it down. Enormous forces are at work on the spaceship, but the human passengers will still be able to withstand them. If the maneuver is completed successfully, the spacecraft enters the orbit of the planet. From there it can then continue its journey safely to the surface of Mars.
When will the new technology be ready for use?
The technology is still in its infancy. The problem: In addition to the massive laser, a hydrogen propulsion chamber must first be developed.
Research leader Emmanuel Dobelli told the portal,the universe today: “The laser heating chamber is probably the biggest challenge. Can we confine hydrogen gas when heated by a laser beam to temperatures over 9,700°C while keeping the chamber walls cool? According to our typical tests, this is possible.”
But: Large-scale experimental testing is currently not possible because the required laser has not yet been manufactured.
While there is still some research to be done, researchers are realizing the technology’s potential. Reducing travel time to Mars could make it easier to build infrastructure on the planet.
The first manned Mars missions are scheduled for the 2030s – but after that they’ll still be using already known technologies.
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