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Last Updated : Oct 15, 2019 03:39 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

NASA engineer devises engine that moves at the speed of light

The spacecraft is able to blast into space without using a propellant by leveraging the mass-altering phenomena that occur at near-light speed.

Representational Image (Image: Phys.org)
Representational Image (Image: Phys.org)

David Burns, a scientist working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), has devised a special spacecraft that does not require propellants to reach for the stars.

Not just this, he also claims that the machine may be able to move almost at the speed of light.

The futuristic spacecraft can reportedly be propelled into space using in-space engines that do not need fuel either. Usually, rockets operate on Newton’s third law of reaction to every action. They are blast into space using a propellant in one direction so that it can travel in the other. However, Burns’ fuel engine would not follow this basic principle of Physics.

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The 'Helical Engine' was designed by the NASA engineer at the space station’s Marshall Space Flight Center located in Alabama. The spacecraft is able to blast into space without using a propellant by leveraging the mass-altering phenomena that occur at near-light speed.

Since the helical engine is expected to travel at 99 percent of the speed of light, it is possible that this craft would be able to make this attempt a success.

Burns has published a paper on NASA’s technical reports server where he gives a detailed explanation about how this would work.

As he put it, the helical engine is basically a ring placed within a box that bounces in one direction while with the box recoils in the opposite direction. When the ring placed inside the box hits the end, it springs backwards, resulting in the box’s recoil direction changing as well.

Under usual circumstances, this would only make the box wiggle back and forth. However, since both the box and the ring would be travelling at the speed of light, by the time the ring would reach the front end of the box, its mass would increase since it would travel faster while bouncing back. This would result in forward momentum.

Therefore, though the helical engine would not need a propellant, a particle accelerator and ion particles do the job instead, meaning that the principal used to make it operational is the same.

The only hurdle in Burns' path right now is the size of the engine. To make the whole process possible, the engine must be 200 metres long and 12 metres wide. However, these dimensions would render it redundant for space travel.

Speaking to the New Scientist about the possibilities of this idea becoming a success, the NASA engineer said, “I'm comfortable with throwing it out there. If someone says it doesn’t work, I’ll be the first to say it was worth a shot.”

He added, “You have to be prepared to be embarrassed. It is very difficult to invent something that is new under the sun and actually works.”
First Published on Oct 15, 2019 03:39 pm
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