NASA: E-sail technology can help develop fastest ever spacecraft

NASA testing new propulsion system to make fastest spacecraft (Video+)

Reports coming from the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama suggest that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration researchers are working on a new propulsion system that will exponentially reduce the travel time of a spacecraft. The under development system is likely to utilize the power of solar winds, which will make the spacecraft travel at highest speed ever achieved.

Named as Heliopause Electrostatic Rapid Transport System (HERTS), the new propulsion system boasts 10-20 aluminium wires hanging outside of the spacecraft in a circular motion. The special arrangement of wires harness the solar power to generate electricity and circular ‘E-sail’ deflects ionised space particles which generate that extra force to propel the spacecraft giving it the extra speed which no probe has achieved yet.

Each wire measures 1 millimeter in diameter and 12 and a half mile in length. The designed spacecraft will complete one revolution per hour and the centrifugal force will stretch the wires into position.

The sun releases protons and electrons into solar wind at very high speeds — 400 to 750 kilometers per second. NASA scientists are testing deflections of protons from the energised wire and how it can be used for future development of the E-Sail technology. The results obtained will also enable researchers to design an electron gun which will emit excess electron to maintain the positive voltage bias of the wire.

“The same concerns don’t apply to the protons in the solar wind,” said Bruce Wiegmann an engineer in Marshall’s Advanced Concepts Office and the principal investigator for the HERTS E-Sail. “With the continuous flow of protons, and the increased area, the E-Sail will continue to accelerate to 16-20 AU – at least three times farther than the solar sail. This will create much higher speeds.”

NASA has also released a video to demonstrate the concept.

First published on: Apr 13, 2016, 09:57 PM IST

About the author

Kanishk Singh

Kanishk Singh, co-founder, and editor-in-chief at The TeCake, has forayed in the Science and Space for over five years, he enjoys his stint as an editor of several local magazines. He has written several editorials and high-level documentations.

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