Focus-Science and Technology - - LEAVING EARTH -

So­lar sails

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.

An­ti­mat­ter rock­ets

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.

Al­cu­bierre drive

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.

Space el­e­va­tors

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.

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