The question of “how will we get there” has plagued everyone who has ever thought of space travel. We took a step down with the “new” shuttles that only orbit around 260 miles. The Apollo capsules, with a computer no more powerful than a graphing calculator, took astronauts all the way to the moon. The following is two of the most probable propulsion systems.
To fully understand the advantages and disadvantages of fusion propulsion, there needs to be an understanding of how a fusion reaction is created. In its simplest example, when a hydrogen-2 nucleus and a hydrogen-3 nucleus are placed under intense heat and pressure, the two atoms combine and form a helium nucleus. The complete process is very powerful and produces massive amounts of force. This reaction also takes place in the centre of our sun and heats up the planets. This process can also occur between helium-3 and deuterium as well as other elements. There are three basic types of fusion; continuous fusion, pulsed fusion and controlled fusion.
Continuous fusion uses hydrogen/plasma fuel to produce nuclear fusion. Hydrogen is fused using extremely powerful electromagnets used to compress the molecules. Backflow is prevented by a magnetic “cap” while a directed magnetic “funnel” forces the reaction toward the exhaust nozzle. At the end, electromagnets act as a funnel and add extra thrust as they try to recompress the fusion flow. The fusion flow then exits the nozzle at very high speeds and propels the spacecraft forward.
Pulsed fusion requires a large solar sail and a supply of fusion bombs. The fusion bombs are launched at the sail and detonated. The sail takes off and drags the cargo behind it. This propulsion system is considerably cheaper and simpler, but has a more limited fuel supply.
Controlled fusion involves a very strong reinforced chamber in which a fusion bomb is detonated. The chamber becomes instantly pressurized with a nuclear fusion explosion, which rushes out and propels the spacecraft forward.
There are many disadvantages with fusion. The fusion exhaust stream could read anywhere from five hundred thousand to fifteen million degrees Fahrenheit. This causes a large problem since nothing that we have can survive these temperatures. This heat would not be such a problem in space since vacuum is very cold but the problem is being solved using electromagnets.
As far as scientists have determined, things are made out of molecules, molecules are made out of atoms and theoretically, atoms are made out of quarks. According to theory, every atom has three quarks, which are all positive. Antimatter is supposed to have two positive and one negative quark. This negative quark makes it impossible to have matter and antimatter touching each other. When they do come into contact, they annihilate each other and the result is an explosion of pure energy. Magnetic antimatter and magnetic sand could be used to propel a spacecraft. As they come into contact inside a highly reinforced chamber, the resulting explosion would rush into space and propel the ship forward.
The trip to Mars with an antimatter annihilation chamber could take as little as twenty-four hours. The problem is that antimatter costs about 10,000,000 per ounce or for every 3.125 minutes of thrust. The only way around this problem is to either construct large particle accelerators specifically designed to harvest antimatter, or to find a large deposit of antimatter within our solar system.
While these propulsion systems are still in the construction phase, a plan for what to use when we get there is also in the works.