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The problem is what Konstantin Tsiolkovsky discovered 100 years ago: as speed increases, the mass required (in fuel) increases exponentially. This relation, specifically, is $$\Delta v=v_e\ln\left(\frac{m_i}{m_f}\right)$$ where $v_e$ is the exhaust velocity, $m_i$ the initial mass and $m_f$ the final mass. The above can be rearranged to get $$m_f=m_ie^{-\... 31 TL;DR: This answer arrives at roughly the same conclusion as Kyle Kanos', i.e. in addition to payload considerations, the difficulty lies in stuffing a small rocket with a mass of fuel exceeding to the mass of the rocket itself. This answer, however, is more rigorous in how the \Delta v budget is treated. Developing a relationship between rocket and ... 15 You have the general idea right, but the following statement is subtly wrong The pressurized fuel/air mixture is ignited and this increases the pressure inside the combustion chamber even more Unlike in a piston engine, the ignition of the fuel air mixture in a turbine engine increases the mixture's volume while pressure stays relatively constant. ... 14 One of my mentors likes to say, "Nothing resembles a new effect quite so much as a mistake." Conservation of momentum is a fundamental principle of mechanics supported by hundreds of years of experimental evidence since the language needed to discuss it was codified by Newton. Certainly it's the case that electromagnetic radiation carries momentum and can ... 13 The primary factor that determines the ability of an aircraft to takeoff is having a speed exceeding that of the liftoff speed: that is the minimum (air) speed of the aircraft to generate sufficient lift by its wings to counteract the gravitational pull from the earth. Large passenger planes at takeoff often change the wing configuration (lowers flaps etc) ... 13 Why can't a space ship accelerate infinitely? Because a space ship needs to carry fuel, and because that fuel needs to be contained in a fuel tank. That need to carry the fuel needed to make the spacecraft accelerate leads to the very nasty ideal rocket equation,$$\Delta v = v_e \ln \left( \frac {m_{\text{initial}}} {m_{\text{final}}} \right)$$The ... 13 The first thing that should jump out to anyone is the following excerpt from the abstract of the recent NASA paper: Thrust was observed on both test articles, even though one of the test articles was designed with the expectation that it would not produce thrust. Specifically, one test article contained internal physical modifications that were designed ... 12 You want a gas so you don't need to expend energy vaporising the propellant. You also want the gas to be as dense as possible so you can get as much impulse per unit volume of propellant as possible. It's also nice if the gas is inert and non-corrosive so you don't need to worry about it degrading or corroding whatever you're storing it in. Finally it's nice ... 8 Rather than leaving a brief comment on this topic, let me just point at this wikipedia page which is very comprehensive: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstellar_travel My own comments: Once we learn to control fusion, that would be an attractive candidate for the engine. The nice thing is that there might be no need to convert the reactor's energy into ... 8 (i) Roger Shawyer Shawyer's output seems to be mostly available on emdrive.com. Among the theoretical explanations he provides there are A Note on the Principles of EmDrive force measurement Principle of Operation Theory paper None of these appear to be peer-reviewed. (ii) NWPU group Applying Method of Reference 2 to Effectively Calculating ... 8 Does an ion thrust engine consume more energy as it speeds up? The answer to this question is no. So when it hits the top speed what is the bottle neck? The bottleneck is that the vehicle runs out of propellant. The problem is described by the rocket equation,$$\frac {\Delta v}{v_e} = \ln\frac{m_{\text{initial}}}{m_{\text{final}}}$$Where m_{\... 7 It is possible to generate thrust using EM radiation such as a laser or microwaves. Discussed in this XKCD blog. However this relies on momentum being transferred from the photons of the EM radiation to the object being propelled. This is not possible if the microwaves are completely sealed within a container as indicated in the article. This paper will ... 7 My guess is that the exhaust is not perfectly in line with the balloon's centre of mass. In other words, the exhaust is slightly off-centre. That will cause the thrust of the escaping gas to push the nozzle slightly to the side, causing the balloon to rotate sightly as it travels forward. If this deflection stays constant you will get a perfect circle. If ... 7 Yes - although whether it provides "useable power to a shaft" depends on the kind of jet engine (it is possible but not necessary). For example, a turbojet does not provide "useable" power to a shaft - it just drives the compressor. A turbofan engine has a bypass path: the compressor does not send all the air to the combustion chamber, but some of it "... 6 Probably the single biggest obstacle is detection and avoidance of objects in space. To get to Alpha Centauri in 40-50 yrs the probe would be traveling at relativistic speeds (~1/10 the speed of light). All collision detection and avoidance would need to be handled by onboard systems since the ground controllers would have no direct control. You have to ... 6 Probably possible, rockets have been built that used kerosene and even Hydrogen peroxide. Liquid natural gas stores a lot of energy per volume, but hydrogen is very light and so offers a huge amount of energy per kg. And in trying to accelerate your rocket vertically upward at several 'g' it's kg that matter. Note: data from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... 6 The maximum theoretical speed that a spaceship can reach isn't limited by anything (except the speed of light of course). However for a practical spaceship with a finite amount of fuel, the speed of the exhaust will set a practical maximum on the speed of the spaceship. This is because in order to accelerate to a higher speed, the spaceship would have to ... 6 Noble gases have the advantage of being chemically inert, so that they are less likely to react with atoms in the electrostatic grids. Since ion thruster to date have been deployed only on unmanned transports, regular maintainance is not an option. Because of that, Noble gases are favoured over, say, hydrogen One reason to pick Xenon over Argon though, ... 5 The principle of relativity says that we can analyze a physical situation from any reference frame, as long as it moves with some constant speed relative to a known inertial frame. Thus, the ion drive does not find it more difficult to accelerate the ship when the ship is "going fast" because the ion drive cannot physically distinguish going fast from going ... 5 It seems like the previous answers were based on the abstract or third-party articles about the abstract, but I gather from this Wired article that the full paper provides more details (behind a paywall, so I can only speak for what the article says). The described tests were on the Cannae drive, the inventor of which believed required slots in the drive to ... 5 That page is not well written. The 90km/s speed is the exhaust velocity of the engine. It is not the maximum speed of the spacecraft. There is no maximum speed of the spacecraft, short of the speed of light. They make the mistake again when they say: "While a chemical rocket's top speed is limited by the thermal capability of the rocket nozzle" ADDED: ... 4 I am an engineering student making an ionocraft as my master's project, these are my 2 cents: Initially, there is the problem of space charge saturation: simply put, there is an upper limit to the amount of ions that can coexist in a given space. This has been shown and modelled in papers concerning high voltage coronas. Another way to see this is as a ... 4 A problem I can see with this layout is that it generates a point (at the last upward curvature) for the plane to lift off. In general planes need different runway lengths depending on weight and type of the plane, as well as on external influences like wind. I therefore assume(!) that a typical flat layout is suited for a wider range of aircraft, and also ... 4 I think you are really asking "how can light deliver an impulse to the sail". The answer is that although light has no mass it does carry momentum. When light is reflected off the sail, conservation of momentum requires that the sail changes momentum by twice the momentum of the light. The extra kinetic energy of the sail comes from the red shift of the ... 4 The engine isn't designed to use solar power. The thrust^1 is due to the motion of microwaves within a resonant cavity, and the microwaves are generated by a magnetron on the space ship. The power source for the magnetron would presumably be a nuclear generator or some other compact way of storing energy. The original 2006 paper describing the drive is ... 4 You asked for an intuitive answer. A rocket accelerated by burning fuel and expelling the combustion products at high velocity. Conservation of momentum says that if you expel the same mass faster, you will get greater acceleration. This gives rise to the proportionality with v_{cx}. As for the logarithmic part: if you imagine two rockets of mass m ... 4 It does follow from the conservation of momentum. Consider the diagram (from Wikipedia) of a rocket expelling gas of mass \Delta m: At t=0, the initial momentum is$$ p(t=0)=\left(m+\Delta m\right)V\tag{1} $$but at t=\Delta t, we've lost some mass and gained some velocity,$$ p(t=\Delta t)=m\left(V+\Delta V\right)+\Delta m \left(V-v_e\right) \tag{2}...

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