HOW WE’LL GET AROUND
We might one day sail around the Solar System. Huge canopies could catch the solar wind – the stream of charged particles blowing from the Sun. The technology has been demonstrated in miniature, and The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 mission, with 32m2 of sails, is due for launch this November.
When a particle meets its antimatter equivalent, they annihilate into energy, which could power a rocket. Just 10g of antimatter could get you to Mars in four weeks! But it’s not cheap to make: if CERN’s particle accelerators exclusively made antimatter for a year, they’d create just a billionth of a gram.
Move over Star Trek, this is a warp drive for the real world. NASA is looking at manipulating space itself, so that you could travel faster than the speed of light without violating the rules of physics. The catch is you’d need to have negative mass in order to do so, and we don’t yet know if that’s possible.
If you could slowly climb an elevator shaft that was anchored to the equator, Earth’s rotation means that at the top you’d be orbiting the planet fast enough to fly off into space. While still a long way off, thanks to recent advances in materials science we may soon have something to build the cable from.
Fill up en route
Rather than taking all their fuel with them, future missions could harvest methane – the main component of natural gas – from places like Mars, Jupiter and Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Last year, Jeff Bezos’s space company Blue Origin successfully test-fired its BE-4 rocket engine, which is powered by liquefied natural gas.