Jan 30, 2022

New research debunks a popular method for interstellar travel

Posted by in categories: materials, physics

In the 1960s, American physicist Robert W. Bussard proposed a radical idea for interstellar travel: a spacecraft that relied on powerful magnetic fields to harvest hydrogen directly from the interstellar medium.

As it’s come to be known, the Bussard Ramjet has since been popularized by hard science fiction writers like Poul Anderson, Larry Niven, Vernor Vinge, and science communicators like Carl Sagan. Unfortunately, a team of physicists recently analyzed the concept in more detail and concluded that Bussard’s idea is not practical. At a time when interstellar travel looks destined to become a real possibility, this analysis might seem like a wet blanket but is more of a reality check.

This detailed analysis was led by Peter Schattschneider, a physicist and materials science specialist with the University of Vienna and a science fiction author. He was joined by Albert A. Jackson, a physicist with the Texas-based aerospace company Triton Systems, LLC. The study that describes their findings (“The Fishback ramjet revisited”) will appear in the scientific journal Acta Astronautica in February 2022.

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