There is a huge amount of observation and scientific research that can be carried out from Earth. Either ground or orbital telescopes and equipment are now able to give us an unprecedented view of just just the solar system but the universe as a whole. But in order to find out more like what’s behind the veil of Titan’s atmosphere or to get a close up view of Pluto or land a man on the moon then the only way to do it is with spacecraft.
Spacecraft fall into two distinct categories, manned and unmanned. So far the furthest that a manned spacecraft has been to is the moon, but we seem to be inching towards manned missions that go further into space than ever before. The problem is that manned spacecraft are big, heavy, and need to keep the human(s) travelling alive so they’re expensive.
The future of Space travel within the solar system
Never at any time since the Moon landings has the human race looked forward to such an exciting future in space travel. Just looking to the near future NASA’s new and as yet unlaunched Space Launch System (SLS) is looking at taking man back to the Moon.
With big plans to use the SLS to take us beyond the Moon, to Mars and perhaps further. The plans are big and the system is expensive so launches will be limited and every one will need to bring us a big step closer to our ultimate goals.
Along with this other big ventures like the dream chaser are an exciting addition to the commercial possibilities of spaceflight. Created by the Sierra Nevada Corporation, initially as a proposal to NASA for commercial crew possibilities, despite NASA not taking it up the Dream Chaser is still being pursued and really could happen.
This would be a pretty amazing thing as it would bring the space plane back into being, which is pretty amazing and much more exciting than the capsules than harken back to the 1950’s which splash down rather unceremoniously into the sea.
Nearer into the future there’s Space S’s manned dragon capsule. Capable of sending up to seven humans into space and landing back on Earth to be refuelled and reused. There are big plans the the dragon capsule, it designed to be able to send astronauts to ISS and beyond. Space X want to use Dragon 2 to send people to the Moon and with an updated version to Mars.
This is the first time ever that a commercial enterprise has had such ambitious plans for space travel and has created a new space race to Mars. This time the race is between commercial companies but between competing countries. Elon Musk has already bet that he will get a man on Mars before Boeing does the same for NASA.
Robotic Interstellar Travel – Daedalus
But while this is all well and good, with missions to Mars, back to the Moon and such being mentioned – what about the starships? What isea have we come up with to travel between the stars?
The first concept for an interstellar probe was drawn up by the British Interplanetary Society. The idea was to answer the question of whether or not interstellar travel was actually possible. Thought up back in 1978 the scope of the project was to come up with a spacecraft design that could travel to a nearby star within a human lifetime using current technology or technology that would soon become available.
Running on frozen deuterium pellets nuclear reactions Daedalus was conceived. Able to achieve a speed of 12% of the speed of light Daedalus would travel to Barnard’s star in about 60 years. As a concept this is pretty incredible, especially considering as it was conceived less than 10 years after the Moon landings and is still talked about today as a benchmark project that could one day see life.
Manned Interstellar Travel
This is where the little golden nugget of wonder keeps in, that holy grail of sailing between the stars in a spacecraft that can travel the distances between the stars in days or week, not years., just like in the tales of Star Trek.
Is it possible?
Is it practical?
The answer to this isn’t simple, as in Daedalus the answer is not yet. But we kind of know how to in theory like all things it’s how to make it happen in practice. But this hasn’t stopped the boffins from designing a potential craft to do the job.
IXS Enterprise is a real stap at taking a look at what the first starship might look like. Using an Albecurrie drive to warp space and propel it towards the stars faster than light (FTL), it’s reckoned that IXS Enterprise if it achieved reality could travel to Alpha Centauri in a couple of weeks. At the speed of light even this would take a couple of years.
The potential is exciting, but to get there there are insurmountable hurdles to overcome even if the drive can be made to work. Making sure the humans can survive the massive acceleration to do this would be just one.
Even within our own solar system there’s a huge amount of excitement around space travel right now. The vision is that within a generation humans could be looking at the surface of Pluto for themselves. The only thing holding us back is the drive and the will do so.
How have you found the Solar System Exploration series so far? I have ideas on some future posts but what ideas do you have? Should I be going further out?
Let me know.
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