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New propulsion for spacecraft could speed up space exploration

New propulsion for spacecraft could speed up space exploration

Push the pellet beam

Robert Klatt

  • the so-called Pellet beam drive could Significantly accelerate travel to the edge of the solar system
  • innovator Pay for spaceships exists so far Only as a concept on paper
  • Now NASA is promoting it Advancement of $175,000

The so-called pellet beam engine should greatly speed up travel to the edge of the solar system and aid space exploration.


Los Angeles (United States). The current spacecraft needs more than a week to reach the moon. The journey to Mars takes at least seven months and the interstellar medium can only be reached after several decades of flight time with today’s engines. It took the US probe Voyager 1 about 35 years to reach the limit of the heliosphere.


So researchers are working hard on new propulsion technologies aimed at exponentially speeding up missions in space. A laser engine recently presented by scientists at McGill University is said to have launched a spacecraft to Mars in 45 days.


Push the beam pellet to spaceships

Researchers led by Artur Davoyan of the University of California, according to NASA He introduced the concept of the so-called pellet beam engine. This should be able to transport large blocks at high speed over long distances. According to scientists’ model calculation, a spacecraft with a granular beam drive could reach the heliosphere in less than five years instead of 35 years.

The leadership concept is one of the 14 in the first phase of NIAC procedure (Innovative and Advanced Concepts) from NASA. According to the trade journal the universe today Then, the scientists will receive 175,000 US dollars from the US space agency for further development.

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Journeys to the edge of the solar system

Until now, pellet beam propulsion only existed on paper. However, according to Davoyan, those involved in the project hope that the drive will enable faster travel to the edge of the solar system in the future.

“Our proposal studies a propulsion architecture for the rapid transport of heavy payloads (tons or larger) through the solar system to the interstellar medium.”

The researchers used inspiration Breakthrough Starshot Initiative, where several small probes with huge solar sails will be illuminated and accelerated from Earth by powerful lasers. According to Initiative calculations, the probes could reach the nearest star system, Proxima Centauri, in about 20 years with this engine.


In the case of the pellet pack also being propelled, the propulsion comes from outside and is not generated by the fuel the spaceship is carrying. However, the concept requires two spacecraft, one to reach the target and one to stay in orbit.

Precipitated pellets as payment

With the pellet beam propelled, a spacecraft in Earth orbit directs a particle beam made up of what are called detached microspheres into the interstellar spacecraft. A portion of the pellets is converted into plasma by a powerful laser beam, which further accelerates the remaining pellets.

It is supposed to be a glowing string of spheres that, according to simulations, can travel 120 kilometers per second. The resulting kinetic momentum then hits the interstellar spacecraft’s sail and accelerates it to high speed.

“With a pellet beam, the outer planets can be reached in less than a year. In three years you can cover 100 AU and in about 15 years 500 AU.”

Compared to a pure laser drive, the pellet beam drive requires significantly less power. According to the researchers’ calculations, a 10-mW laser beam would suffice.

“Unlike a laser beam, the pellets are not spread out as much, allowing us to accelerate even a heavier spacecraft. Because the pellets are much heavier than photons, they can also transfer more momentum to a spacecraft.”

The researchers want to use NASA funds for experiments and calculations to test the feasibility of this method.

“In the first phase, we want to prove the feasibility of the proposed drive concept through detailed modeling of the different subsystems.”