In the vast expanse of the cosmos, our journey is currently tethered by the chains of conventional propulsion. The Voyager 1, for instance, sails through the interstellar medium at what seems like a pedestrian pace of 35,000 miles per hour.
Yet, the horizon holds promise.
The MASA Institute for Advanced Concepts is endorsing twin revolutionary approaches that aim to shatter our speed constraints, potentially reaching a dizzying velocity of one million kilometers per hour.
At the vanguard of these innovations are the enhanced ion drive and the antimatter propulsion system. Current advancements now enable the conception of ion drive engines that dwarf their predecessors in terms of thrust.
In a futuristic symphony of technology, NASA-NIAC plans to fuel a staggering 50,000 lithium-ion thrusters with high-intensity lasers. In mere months, these cutting-edge engines will be put to the test, harnessing a colossal 10 megawatts of power supplied by the lasers.
JPL plays the alchemist, crafting the components for this next-generation ion drive. Meanwhile, the US military endeavors to forge lasers that could unleash hundreds of megawatts. Such innovation paves the way for “direct-drive” ion engines, an approach that streamlines the engine’s anatomy by bypassing numerous electronics, thus operating on a potent testing voltage of up to 6000 volts.
As we stand on the brink of this propulsion renaissance, a vision crystallizes. By 2050, NASA and JPL could potentially unfurl engines capable of whisking us through space at a breathtaking one million miles per hour.