Archive for March, 2021

Encapsulated X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle for U.S. Space Force-7 mission, now in Earth orbit.
Credit: Boeing

That secretive U.S. military X-37B space plane has just chalked up more than 300 days in Earth orbit.

The Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-6), also called USSF-7 for the U.S. Space Force, was launched on May 17, 2020 by an Atlas-V 501 booster.

OTV-6 is the first to use a service module to host experiments. The service module is an attachment to the aft of the vehicle that allows additional experimental payload capability to be carried to orbit.

Credit: Boeing

Onboard experiments

One experiment onboard the space plane that was announced pre-launch is from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), an investigation into transforming solar power into radio frequency microwave energy. The experiment itself is called the Photovoltaic Radio-frequency Antenna Module, PRAM for short.

Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has pioneered “sandwich” modules that are far more efficient for space solar power.
Credit: NRL/Jamie Hartman

Along with toting NRL’s PRAM into Earth orbit, the X-37B also deployed the FalconSat-8, a small satellite developed by the U.S. Air Force Academy and sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory to conduct several experiments on orbit.

The FalconSat-8 is an educational platform that will carry five experimental payloads for the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) to operate.

In addition, two NASA experiments are also onboard the space plane to study the effects of the space environment on a materials sample plate and seeds used to grow food.

X-37B handout.
Credit: Boeing

Delta 9

The X-37B program is under the wing of a newly established U.S. Space Force unit called Delta 9.

Delta 9, a component of the U.S. Space Force, was established and activated July 24, 2020.

“Delta 9 Detachment 1 oversees operations of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, an experimental program designed to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Space Force,” according to a fact sheet issued by Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado. Delta 9 consists of three active duty squadrons headquartered at Schriever.

“The mission of Delta 9 is to prepare, present, and project assigned and attached forces for the purpose of conducting protect and defend operations and providing national decision authorities with response options to deter and, when necessary, defeat orbital threats,” the fact sheet explains. “Additionally, Delta 9 supports Space Domain Awareness by conducting space-based battlespace characterization operations and also conducts on-orbit experimentation and technology demonstrations for the U.S. Space Force.”

Go to this video of the U.S. military space plane pass on March 13, 2021, as recorded by satellite spotter, Kevin Fetter, at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nI-buuCoCPA&feature=youtu.be

Credit: XinhuaVideo/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Lunar south pole – future Moon base location?
Credit: NASA

 

China has wrapped up feasibility studies of the fourth phase of the country’s lunar exploration ambitions, and is investigating the future establishment of an international research station at the Moon’s south pole.

There may be more than 180 consecutive days of light at the Moon’s south pole, enabling crews to conduct research within this area.

Fourth phase

Wu Weiren, the chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program, told China Space News, that three missions are planned for the fourth phase of the lunar exploration program.

The program includes the retrieval of lunar samples from the south pole by Chang’e-6, a detailed survey of the Moon’s south pole resources by Chang’e-7, and the testing of key technologies in preparation for the construction of the lunar research station by Chang’e-8.

Credit: via Roscosmos

Roadmap formulation

According to the Xhinua news agency, Wu addressed the recent memorandum of understanding signed between China and Russia to jointly formulate a roadmap for the construction of an international lunar research station.

That MOU calls for close cooperation between the two countries in the planning, demonstration, design, development, implementation and operation of the project, Wu noted.

It will be a long-term lunar stay at the research post for Chinese astronauts, not short-term, Wu said.

As spelled out in the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025), Wu added, China is moving forward in promoting the development of heavy launch vehicles and achieve breakthroughs in rocket body sizes and engine thrust to support deep space exploration.

Go to this new GLOBALink video: “China plans to build research station on Moon’s south pole: chief designer” at:

https://youtu.be/I7VaIQBHr68

Chang’e-5 leg of lunar lander.
Credit: CNSA/CLEP

 

Lunar samples returned to Earth by China’s Chang’e-5 mission are undergoing intensive study and offer revealing details about the Moon.

China’s Chang’e-5 (CE-5) mission was the first robotic Earth-Moon round-trip collection of lunar bits and pieces since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976.

Regional context of the Chang’e-5 Moon landing site (green triangle).
Credit: Yuqi Qian, et al.

A new research paper indicates that samples returned by the Chinese Moon sample mission will address fundamental questions such as lunar chronology, thermal evolution, as well as provide key calibration for lunar and planetary chronologies and remote sensing data.

The paper – “China’s Chang’e-5 landing site: Geology, stratigraphy, and provenance of materials” – has been published in the Earth and Planetary Science Letters journal. Lead author of the paper is Yuqi Qian of the State Key Laboratory of Geological Processes and Mineral Resources, Planetary Science Institute, School of Earth Sciences, China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, China.

NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s powerful LROC system captured these images. Left: Chang’e 5 spacecraft before departure of ascent stage. Right: After departure of ascent stage. Both images sampled at 1.2 meter pixels, north is up. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Topside and subsurface samples

China’s highly successful Chang’e-5 lunar mission retrieved about 4 pounds (1,731 grams) of samples from the basaltic plains of Northern Oceanus Procellarum (“Ocean of Storms”). Its lander-ascender combination touched down on the near side of the Moon on December 1, 2020, collecting samples from both the lunar surface and beneath.

Chang’e-5 cannister holding lunar specimens is carefully removed by technicians.
Credit: National Astronomical Observatories, CAS

 

The ascender later rocketed the specimens off the Moon for transfer to an orbiter/returner for transport back to Earth.

A return capsule containing the lunar collectibles landed in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in the early hours of December 17, 2020.

 

Stratigraphic assessment

Regolith and rock fragments sampled by Chang’e-5, the paper explains, “come from some of the youngest mare basalts on the Moon, near Rima Sharp [the longest sinuous rille on the Moon] and from the center of the globally anomalous Procellarum KREEP Terrane (PKT), hypothesized to be responsible for the generation of the young volcanism.”

A detailed geologic map and stratigraphic assessment of the landing site of Chang’e-5 has been created. The stratigraphy consists of ancient highland materials, local silica-rich volcanism, overlain by a sequence of mare basalts, capped by post-mare bombardment ejecta from distant sources, mainly from Harpalus (a young lunar impact crater), Copernicus (one of the most prominent craters on the Moon) and Aristarchus (one of the most geologically complex areas on the Moon).

Credit: Yuqi Qian, et al.

Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects specimens from the Moon brought back by the return sample mission.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Different layers

There are at least 9 different layers in the Chang’e-5 landing site, the paper explains, including impact ejecta, regolith, moderate- titanium (Ti) basalts, paleo-ejecta, paleo-regolith, low-Ti mare basalts, and Procellarum KREEP Terrane crust, which can be tested by the Lunar Penetrating Radar carried onboard the Chang’e-5 lunar lander. That radar provided information support for lunar drilling and sampling.

The mare basalts whisked back to Earth by the Chang’e-5 mission, “have enormous potential for improving our understanding of the recent thermal evolution and impact history of the Moon,” the research paper notes. Soil and rock fragments returned are to be carefully studied in laboratories using cutting-edge techniques.

To access the paper — “China’s Chang’e-5 landing site: Geology, stratigraphy, and provenance of materials” – go to:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0012821X2100114X

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover is readying for launch the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter from a natural airfield in Jezero Crater.

Underneath the Mars Perseverance rover, the location of the mini-helicopter. Images taken by the SHERLOC WATSON Camera located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm. Images acquired on March 12, 2021 (Sol 21).
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As planned, the rover is to drive to the center of a selected “helipad,” then release the lock on the Mars Helicopter Delivery System. That’s followed by slow rotation of the helicopter down to the surface, deployment of the helicopter’s legs, along with charging of vehicle’s batteries to 100%, and then the gentle drop of 6 inches (15 centimeters) to the surface.

After the drop, Perseverance is to wheel away to expose Ingenuity to the Sun so the helicopter can recharge its batteries.

The craft weighs about 4.0 pounds (1.8 kilograms) on Earth, and about 1.5 pounds (0.68 kilograms) on Mars.

Perseverance will monitor the takeoff of the Ingenuity craft.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Flight test goals

When given the go, Mars Flight Test No. 1 is scheduled to launch at about 11 a.m. local time on Mars, when winds in the area are expected to be lightest and the battery will be at an adequate state of charge.

The goals of Flight Test No. 1: lift off, climb, hover, and land.

Ingenuity will be tasked with climbing at about 3 feet per second (1 meter per second) to an altitude of about 10 feet (3 meters). Then it is expected to hover for about 20 seconds and descend at about 3 feet per second (1 meter per second) until touchdown.

The Ingenuity team will attempt up to five flight tests during its 30-sol experiment window.

Image from Mars Perseverance Right Navigation Camera located high on the rover’s mast. Image acquired on March 12, 2021 (Sol 21).
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Future human Mars expeditions may use aerial vehicles to enlarge their exploration zones.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As a technology demonstration, NASA has invested about $85 million to build the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, accommodate it on Perseverance, and operate the helicopter on Mars.

Check out this informative video detailing the up-coming helicopter release sequence:

https://youtu.be/d5ehz7pHprk

Launch control for China’s Long March-7A.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China has successfully flown a modified version of the Long March-7 rocket, a booster that represents a new generation of the country’s medium-sized high-orbit rocketry. The launcher adds to the tool kit of available rocket power to sustain and enhance China’s budding agenda of putting in place their own space station, as well as shoulder robotic and human sojourns to the Moon and beyond.

The Long March-7A Y2 carrier rocket lifted off early Friday morning (Beijing time) from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in south China’s island province of Hainan. The maiden flight of the CZ-7A back in March 2020 ended in failure.

Credit: LC-123/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Atop the modified booster was the Shiyan-9 satellite, primarily used for in-orbit tests of new technologies including space environment monitoring, according to Chinese news accounts.

Meet the demand

China’s Xinhua news agency reports that, along with Long March-3A and Long March-5 carrier rockets, the Long March-7A will undertake the country’s high-orbit missions.

The Long March-3A rocket can carry payloads of 5.5 tons to GTO, and the Long March-5 can send payloads of 14 tons to GTO.

Meng Gang, chief director of the rocket project, said the Long March-7A is expected to carry out three to five missions annually before 2025 reports Xinhua. Upgrades of the launch vehicle are scheduled to meet the demand for sending satellites and deep-space probes to explore the Moon, Mars and asteroids. 

Core module of China’s space station.
Credit: CMS/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Space station module

In the meantime, China is pressing forward on its space station construction plans.

In a few months, China will launch the Tianhe core module, the foundational element of their orbital facility slated to be completed in 2022.  It will start the construction of the nation’s largest space-based asset, according to the China Manned Space Agency.

China’s Tianwen1 now in Mars orbit, ready to unload a lander/rover in May-June.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China appears to be on the verge of a one-two punch in both the country’s human space flight program as well as its robotic planetary exploration plans.

Before the end of June, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) notes it anticipates the lofting of the 20-metric-ton core module. China is also targeting an attempted landing on Mars in May-June with the Tianwen-1’s lander/rover – the country’s first independent mission to the Red Planet.

China’s space station expected to be completed around 2022.
CMS/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Multi-type rockets

To piece together China’s space station in rapid fashion, the nation will sequentially launch the Tianhe core capsule, Wentian and Mengtian lab modules.

In addition, four Shenzhou crew-carrying spacecrafts and four Tianzhou cargo spacecrafts will also be lofted to establish a rotation of astronauts to work on the space station and supply goods to sustain station operations.

“This is the first time that we will launch multi-type Long March rockets to build a manned space station. The carrier rocket Long March-5B will launch the core module of the space station. Then the Long March-7 carrier rocket will launch the cargo spacecraft. Later, the Long March-2F carrier rocket will carry our astronauts to our space station,” said Mou Yu, director of the General Design Department of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology explained in a recent China Central Television (CCTV) interview.

China’s space station agenda also includes lofting an optical module that carries a space telescope, touted as having a better field angle than the NASA Hubble space telescope.
Credit: China Manned Space (CMS)/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Hubble rival

Upon commissioning the space station, China will also loft an optical module that carries a space telescope, touted as having a better field angle than the NASA Hubble space telescope. Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s manned space program, said that the telescope with resolution ratio equivalent to the Hubble telescope will have a 2-meter diameter lens with a field of view 300 times that of the Hubble telescope.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“The telescope will be set up in an optical module that can fly independently in orbit for a higher efficiency of space probe. Meanwhile, we will make it fly approximately in common orbit with the future space station,” Zhou told CCTV. “This will help us refuel the telescope and carry out in-orbit upgrade for it, so as to always keep it on the level of an international frontier.”

The orbiting telescope can survey large areas in space in the coming 10 years, Zhou added. “We will explore the mysteries of the stars and very deep space, including the origin and evolution of the cosmos, as well as the important scientific frontier issues including dark holes, dark matter and dark energy.”

Credit: ISS/NASA

Boots on the Moon

As chief designer of China’s manned space program Zhou said that the country plans to send astronauts to the Moon for scientific exploration. The space station will lay the ground for China’s further manned space exploration, such as future crewed lunar missions, he said.

“We are in the process of deepening the assessment of manned lunar exploration and tackling key technical problems. We have the determination and the hardworking spirit to achieve manned lunar exploration for Chinese people,” Zhou told CCTV. “Moreover, we have set our goal higher than merely setting foot on the Moon, meaning that we will be using modern technology and conducting scientific exploration when our astronauts reach the Moon.”

Go to this CCTV video describing the Long March-7A at:

https://youtu.be/0Us4b_qaGdU

Credit: For All Moonkind

An interactive registry that catalogs human historical sites and artifacts on the Moon has been unveiled.

The For All Moonkind Moon Registry is a free online resource that provides overviews of every mission involving lunar exploration, including details on the objects related to those endeavors that are still on the lunar surface – from commemorative medallions and flags to rovers and scientific experiments.

As a registry, the online tool is not only an educational and awareness-raising tool, it can support a wide variety of services for historians, engineers, archaeologists and future lunar enterprises.

Credit: For All Moonkind

Historic value

In a press statement, Michelle Hanlon, Co-Founder of For All Moonkind emphasized that the history of humans on the Moon belongs to everyone on Earth.

“Yet I don’t think people realize that the first lunar landing sites are not protected by any law,” adds Hanlon, a space law professor at the University of Mississippi. She is also the newly appointed president of the National Space Society. 

“We are working to obtain international recognition and protection for sites in space that have universal historic value,” Hanlon explains.

Credit: For All Moonkind

There are more than 100 sites on the Moon that host evidence of human activity and ingenuity, Hanlon points out. “The sites include objects, bootprints and tracks that bear witness to some of the most remarkable moments in our human journey. Our mission is to catalog the sites, and all the objects they contain.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The For All Moonkind Moon Registry can be accessed at:

www.moonregistry.forallmoonkind.org

Also, go to: “‘Moon Registry’ catalogs human heritage left behind on lunar surface” By Robert Z. Pearlman at: 

https://www.space.com/for-all-moonkind-moon-registry

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

NASA’s latest addition to Red Planet probing is the Perseverance robot – now getting up to speed on Mars within Jezero crater. Scientists believe the area was once flooded with water and was home to an ancient river delta.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona/ESA

However, early imagery relayed from Perseverance has provided some “geo…logical” head-scratching.

Picture-sleuthing science

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Jack Mustard

Jezero rock photos appear to indicate volcanic activity – and perhaps the Mars machinery is sitting in leftover volcanic rock and dust. Some picture-sleuthing readers have suggested that the water “trail” isn’t there…there is simply not enough erosion.

To help sort out the sorted details, Inside Outer Space asked noted expert Jack Mustard, professor in Brown University’s Department of Earth Environmental and Planetary Sciences, what’s the lowdown on those rocks?

“The first impression could give that interpretation, as they have landed on the Jezero mafic floor unit, which is variably interpreted as volcanic flows, volcanic tephra (ash and particulates) or maybe eolian [pertaining to the activity of wind].

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Jack Mustard

Too soon to tell

Mustard said Perseverance is actually in a place where the delta may have been long ago but has since eroded away, “so this mix of dust, fragments and rounded pebbles could be what is expected.” It’s too soon to tell, he adds.

In the photos shown here taken by Perseverance and provided by Mustard, these images shore up the interpretation.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Jack Mustard

“But the vesicles could be volcanic from degassing of volatiles from a flow,” Mustard says. They could be pits formed from eolian abrasion “or through other weather processes such as seen in pits we see on Ferrar Dolerite rocks in the McMurdo Dry Valleys.”

No doubt, more imagery and use of Perseverance’s tools will help decipher the nature of the Jezero site.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Jack Mustard

Eye of the beholder

Meanwhile, there’s a geological axiom worth considering: the “tyranny of shiny objects.”

Planetary geologist Jim Head, also at Brown University says that the meaning is what attracts the attention of the eye may be interesting, “but should be put in the context of ‘obtaining a representative sample’…as you may get a ‘piece of broken glass’ and not basic rocks/soils that actually hold the story of the origin and evolution of the region.”

Credit: Virgin Galactic

What makes space activities commercial?

A new paper uses an evolution change mechanism lens to estimate the degree that space sectors are considered “commercial.” The research identifies a set of forces that can indicate how “commercial” a market truly is.

The current space tourism market is clearly considered “commercial,” suggests the paper, but with qualifications.

A comparative analysis of the “commercial” activities of the U.S. space race era and current space tourism is offered, as is estimating the strength of evolution model forces, and also raises a flag of caution about the accuracy of “commercial” market forecasts.

Safe, round-trip, human spaceflight

Published in the Acta Astronautica journal, “What makes space activities commercial?” is written by Ken Davidian of the Federal Aviation Administration, Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

The current human suborbital space transportation market, sometimes referred to as “space tourism,” is reviewed by Davidian.

Brian Binnie flew SpaceShipOne to claim the $10 million Ansari X Prize in October 2004.
Credit: Brian Binnie

The general goal for firms competing in this market is safe, round-trip, human spaceflight, between a single point on Earth and an altitude of approximately 100 kilometers. “The X PRIZE competition was a major shock event that stimulated the creation of space tourism firms,” Davidian notes. Five space tourism firms reached the stage of manufacture, assembly, or flight testing of full-scale flight hardware: Blue Origin, Rocketplane Global, Scaled Composites, Virgin Galactic, and XCOR Aerospace.

“Scaled Composites never intended to enter the space tourism market as a vehicle operator, but they competed for, and won, the X PRIZE,” Davidian explains. By 2020, only two firms, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, remained active, he adds, and although they are pursuing the same general goals, both firms approach the problem with different innovation sets/technology trajectories.

Liftoff of suborbital space tourism vehicle, backed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Credit: Blue Origin

What’s the delay?

“When I looked at the event data for the suborbital tourism industry, it was striking that the current story spans seven decades! Given that it’s been almost two decades since the X PRIZE was won, I think when people talk about significant milestones being only years away, the reality is closer to those events being decades away,” Davidian advises Inside Outer Space.

In the newly published paper, Davidian explains that, although government organizations may support the goal of the “new space” movement to operate in a truly “commercial” market, “the desire to accurately predict trends and events in that market should be tempered by the realities of an evolution-driven marketplace.”

To read the full paper — “What makes space activities commercial?” – go to:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0094576521001053

Note: Go to this free-to-attend virtual meeting — NASA and the Rise of Commercial Space: A Symposium to Examine the Meaning(s) and Context(s) of Commercial Space – on Wednesday, March 17, 2021 – Friday, March 19, 2021. Ken Davidian, Director of Research FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation, will offer a keynote address: “What is Commercial Space?”

To attend this free March 17-19 event, go to:

https://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/history/nasa-and-the-rise-of-commercial-space.html

Pre-drill brushing. Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 3054, March 10, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has just begun performing Sol 3055 tasks.

Reports Kristen Bennett, a planetary geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona: “Curiosity is ready to go ahead with the first drill of 2021!”

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image taken on Sol 3054, March 10, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars scientists have started planning preliminary observations of the potential drill location called “Nontron.” This includes Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) imaging and Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) integrations, a Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) passive observation, and Mastcam multispectral images of Nontron.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 3054, March 10, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“This plan also includes a drill preload test to prepare for the drill procedure,” Bennett adds. “After collecting this wealth of data at Nontron, we anticipate moving forward with the full drill in the next plan.”

Mast Camera Right images acquired on Sol 3051, March 6, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Cliff face observations

The newly scripted plan is also packed with non-drill related activities.

“The rover is parked near the Mont Mercou cliff face, a towering outcrop that gives us a great view of the sedimentary structures that are present. The plan includes a ChemCam passive observation and a Mastcam multispectral mosaic of part of the outcrop, called ‘La Coquille,’ to investigate the chemistry and any potential color variations,” Bennett explains.

Curosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3052, March 8, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

There is an additional Mastcam mosaic that covers several blocks of bedrock at the base of the La Coquille outcrop. This group of blocks inspired one science team member to name this target “La Madeleine,” similar to the children’s book.

Bennett flags the science team’s take on the story:

On an outcrop on Mars all covered with veins

Were twelve little rocks in two straight lines

This target is called La Madeleine!

Taking in the twilight

Curiosity is also slated to look towards the sky.

“The plan includes a Mastcam mosaic taken at twilight to monitor clouds in the evening sky. Additionally, a ChemCam passive sky observation has been coordinated with measurements from the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter spacecraft,” Bennett says. “This joint observation will be used to compare what the ground-based rover observes in the sky with what the spacecraft sees from orbit.”

Artistic impression of different spacecraft designs considering theoretical shapes of different kinds of “warp bubbles.”
Credit: Erik Lentz

 

An astrophysicist reports he has discovered gaps in previous “warp drive” studies. The new research, if equations hold up, would allow space travel to Proxima Centauri, our nearest star, and back to Earth in years instead of decades or millennia.

Erik Lentz at Göttingen University in Germany points to configurations of space-time curvature organized into “solitons” – a compact warp bubble wave that maintains its shape and moves at constant velocity.

In essence, according to Lentz, the new method uses the very structure of space and time arranged in a soliton to provide a solution to faster-than-light travel, which – unlike other research – would only need sources with positive energy densities. No “exotic” negative energy densities needed.

Image to show how long it would take different types of spacecraft to travel from our solar system to Proxima Centauri.
Credit: Erik Lentz

Lower the energy

“This work has moved the problem of faster-than-light travel one step away from theoretical research in fundamental physics and closer to engineering,” Lentz says in a university press statement. “The next step is to figure out how to bring down the astronomical amount of energy needed to within the range of today’s technologies, such as a large modern nuclear fission power plant. Then we can talk about building the first prototypes,” he adds.

Fortunately, several energy-saving mechanisms have been proposed in earlier research, Lentz points out, that can potentially lower the energy required by nearly 60 orders of magnitude.

Lentz is currently in the early-stages of determining if these methods can be modified, or if new mechanisms are needed to bring the energy required down to what is currently feasible.

To read the Lentz research paper in the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity – “Breaking the warp barrier: hyper-fast solitons in Einstein–Maxwell-plasma theory” – go to:

https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1361-6382/abe692