NASA says that the 'Helical Engine' can reach 99% speed of light.


There's a problem with our human drive to see all the things in space. There is a big problem. It is, well, space. It is too big. It would take years to reach our nearest star even at the maximum speed of the Universe.

There is a human drive to find solutions to big problems. David Burns is an engineer with NASA. He says he has created an engine concept that could accelerate to 99 percent of the speed of light without using propellant.

He posted it to the NASA Technical Reports' server under the heading "Helical Engine". An expert hasn't yet reviewed it.

The buzz levels seen in the early days of the EM Drive have been caused by this paper. Some headlines claim the engine could violate the laws of physics.

This concept isn't going to break physics anytime soon.  

Burns described a box with a weight inside, threaded on a line, with a spring at each end bouncing the weight back and forth. In a vacuum, the effect of this is to wiggle the entire box, with the weight seeming to stand still.

Overall, the box would stay wiggling in the same spot, but if the mass of the weight were to increase in only one direction, it would generate a greater push in that direction and thus thrust.

In order for this to be possible, the system's momentum must remain constant in the absence of external forces.

However! There is a loophole. Applause for special relativity! As light speed increases, objects gain mass. If you replace the weight with ion and the box with a loop, you can theoretically have the ion moving faster at one end of the loop and slower at the other.

Burns' drive is not a single closed loop. The "helical engine" is a stretched-out spring.

He wrote in his abstract that the engine moves the ion back and forth along the direction of travel to produce thrust.

"The engine has no moving parts other than ions traveling in a vacuum line, trapped inside electric and magnetic fields."

It sounds really nifty, right? And it is - in theory. But it's not without significant practical problems.

New Scientist states that the chamber would have to be large. It's around 200 meters long and 12 meters in diameter.

It would need 165megawatts of energy to produce 1 newton of thrust. The force needed to accelerate a kilogram of mass per second squared is equivalent to a power station. A lot of input for a small output. It is very inefficient.

Is it in the vacuum of space? It might work out. If you had enough time and power, the engine would be able to reach the speed of light.

Here is the other thing. Humans, not all of them, but still more than a few, desperately want to go to space. We might never get there. If we don't try to think about it, that "may" becomes a" definitely".

Burns states in his presentation that there may be errors in his math and that his work hasn't been reviewed by experts. We don't have the blueprints to make a functional space travel engine.

There is a piece of groundwork that could be used to develop such an engine. There is a dream of the stars.

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