A New Antimatter Engine Design


PRLLC solid state anti-matter spacecraft design (Credit: Positronics LLC)

A team of scientists is currently working with NASA to develop a new form of space propulsion technology based on positrons. This revolutionary antimatter engine will require only a few milligrams of positrons to send a spaceship to Mars. Facing many hurdles along the way, this is the first time some of the real problems of building a real antimatter engine are being confronted.

Space travel has always been mankind's dream. The 1969 historic moon landing brought the hope that soon we will be able to visit other planets in our solar system, but almost 40 years later this dream is still just that. Reaching Mars will require huge investments in and development of many new technologies. One of the biggest technological hurdles we shall need to surpass is the development of a cost-effective and practical propulsion system for a Mars-bound spaceship. Use of conventional chemical rockets, like the Saturn V that took the Apollo team to the Moon, is not practical since the new spaceship would have to carry too much fuel, making it expensive and complicated to lift into orbit. For this reason, a nuclear-powered engine has been suggested for the Mars mission .

NERVA concept (Credit: aemann)

Nuclear propulsion systems for rockets have been studied by NASA since the early 1960's under the Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application (NERVA) program, subsequently cancelled in 1972. In 2003, the nuclear space propulsion idea was revived by the Prometheus Project still under development. Although the nuclear propulsion option looks like a prime candidate for the future Mars mission, its disadvantages (mainly extreme radioactivity) led people like Dr. Gerald A. Smith, founder of Positronics Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to suggest a bold new alternative “ antimatter. First predicted by the British physicist Paul Dirac in 1928 (and experimentally confirmed 4 years), antimatter is comprised of antiparticles that annihilate when they come in contact with ordinary particles, producing a burst of energy in the form of energetic photons. NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) recently funded Dr. Smith's research to examine the potential applications of antimatter as a fuel for a manned mission to Mars

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Dr. Smith and his team at Positronics Research suggested to NASA three possible propulsion concepts, all based on positrons (or anti-electrons). TFOT recently conducted an interview with Dr. Smith to learn more about the potential of positron-based space propulsion systems.

By: Narayani