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Scientists have proposed a dazzling new mission for traveling to the stars that is inspired by the elegant flights of seabirds, such as albatrosses, a new study reports. Conceptual interstellar mission would harness shifting winds generated by the Sun to accelerate a spacecraft up to 2% of the speed of light in two years, allowing it to soar into the vast expanse beyond our system solar.
Humans have dreamed of leaving the solar system for thousands of years, but the staggering distances between stars present major challenges to achieving that goal. NASA’s Voyager spacecraft, which launched in 1977, is the first probes to enter interstellar spacebut it will take them another tens of thousands of years to reach another star system.
Now scientists led by McGill University spaceflight researcher Mathias Larrouturou have imagined a much faster spacecraft that would mimic the “dynamic flight” maneuvers of seabirds by taking momentum from the wind solar, which is a stream of charged particles emitted by the Sun that creates a bubble around the solar system called the heliosphere.
The team found that their “new spacecraft propulsion concept that invokes dynamic soaring” appears “feasible for a vehicle to reach speeds close to 2% of [the speed of light] after one and a half years” or “0.5 percent of [the speed of light] after 1 month”, according to its trajectory through the solar system, according to a recent study published in Frontiers of space technologies.
“Inspired by the dynamic gliding maneuvers performed by seabirds and gliders in which differences in wind speed are exploited to gain speed, in the proposed technique, a lift-generating spacecraft rotates between regions of the heliosphere that have different wind speeds, gaining energy in the process without the use of propellant and only modest onboard energy requirements,” Larrouturou and colleagues said in the study.
“The technique may be the first step in a multi-step mission to achieve true interstellar flight to other solar systems,” the researchers added.
Many conceptual interstellar missions have been proposed over the years, ranging from tiny chips that use high-powered lasers to propel them to the stars, to massive build ships that ferry humans across the galaxy. Larrouturou and his colleagues imagine another type of architecture centered around a “magnetohydrodynamic wing”, which is an invisible structure made of magnetic fields somewhat analogous to the physical wing of a bird or an airplane, according to the author. ‘study.
This spectral wing could theoretically be produced by two plasma magnets placed alongside an antenna several feet long. In the straight parts of the solar system, the field created by the magnets could interact with solar wind flows in different directions in much the same way that birds exploit wind turbulence to create lift.
“The result is a type of lift-generating wing, but without a physical structure,” the team explained in the study. “In dynamic flight as practiced on earth, a lift-generating vehicle executes a maneuver that exploits the difference in wind speed between two different regions of air, for example, the wind blowing over a hill and the air at rest on the lee side of the hill..”
If such a probe were placed at the heliopause, the tumultuous frontier of the heliosphere, it could take advantage of these mixed wind flows to accelerate to speeds of around 370,000 miles per second in a few years. In other parts of the solar system, the spacecraft could reach a quarter of that speed in just a month, according to the team’s calculations.
A mission that hits the gas this way could reach Jupiter in months, not years, and could potentially reach other stars in centuries. Although this is still well beyond a human lifetime, it is a substantial improvement over the millennia-old journeys of slower spacecraft, such as the Voyagers.
To this end, Larrouturou and his colleagues conclude their study with a technology roadmap for plasma magnet technology in practice. The team highlights two more concept missions, the Jupiter Speed Observation Experiment (JOVE) and the Wind Rider Scout Missionas potential pioneers of this new approach to spaceflight.
“These groundbreaking missions would provide validation that significant propulsive power could be extracted from the solar wind, providing a basis for the more advanced concept of extracting electrical energy from the wind for elevator generation,” the researchers said. .
“The ability to generate large lift-to-drag ratio values Going through interaction with the flow of interplanetary and interstellar medium above a spacecraft proves feasible, at least from the point of view of the physical principles involved,” they concluded.
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