Faster Space Travel With Pellet Jet Propulsion

Pellet Jet Propulsion: NASA promotes innovative concepts for space travel. Including one that should make space travel much faster.

What Is Pellet Jet Propulsion?

Pellet Jet Propulsion is a novel method of propulsion for spacecraft. It runs on solid pellets of fuel rather than liquid gasoline. Because it eliminates the need for pumps and valves, it is a more efficient and cost-effective choice. 

The fuel pellets are rapidly heated and released, producing the thrust required to drive the spaceship. While still in its early stages of development, this technology has great potential for the future of space travel. Pellet Jet Propulsion:

NASA: Faster Space Travel With Pellet Jet Propulsion

Spacecraft with conventional forms of propulsion would need 19,000 to 81,000 years to reach the star, Proxima Centauri, 4.25 light-years away from us – and this is the star closest to us. To make things faster in the future, some space agencies are working on alternative forms of propulsion.

Graphic representation of NASA's Pellet Jet Propulsion

Artur Davoyan, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UCLA (University of California in Los Angeles), has submitted a concept for faster forms of propulsion (Pellet Jet Propulsion) to the American Space Agency NASA and its project for innovative advanced concepts NIAC (Innovative Advanced Concepts): Pellet -Beam Propulsion for Breakthrough Space Exploration.

The technology should reach the edge of the solar system in less than 20 years for spacecraft weighing one ton. A converted light sail is used for this. The Planetary Society has already demonstrated with the Lightsail 1 and Lightsail 2 space probes that spacecraft can be powered by light.

Groundbreaking space missions impossible with today’s propulsion technologies
“All current spacecraft and rockets fly by expanding the fuel. The faster the fuel is ejected, the more efficient the rocket is. However, there is a limit to the amount of fuel we can carry on board,” Davoyan told the non-commercial news site Universe Today. The speed that a spacecraft can reach is therefore dependent on the amount of fuel that can be carried.

It took the Voyager 1 spacecraft 35 years to reach the heliopause, the outermost limit of the heliosphere. She reached a record speed of 17 kilometers per second. But it would take the spacecraft 40,000 years to reach another star system. “The limitations of the rocket equation make space exploration relatively slow and expensive,” said the assistant professor.

Are futuristic missions may be feasible after all?

“Major space missions like [the] Solar Gravitational Lens project are not feasible with current spacecraft,” Davoyan said. The principle of the sun’s gravitational lensing stems from a phenomenon predicted by Albert Einstein in his general theory of relativity: gravitational lensing. This refers to the deflection of light rays by heavy masses, which are caused by the curvature of space-time (Pellet Jet Propulsion).

The effect allows astronomers to study distant objects with greater resolution and precision. By positioning a spacecraft in the region of the heliopause, exoplanets and distant objects could be studied with the resolution of a primary mirror about 100 kilometers in diameter. But with previous propulsion technologies, it would take decades to bring such a space telescope to the edge of interstellar space.

Faster space travel is possible, but there are problems

It could be faster with Davoyan’s concept: “In contrast to conventional spacecraft and rockets, with laser sailing, you don’t need any fuel on board to accelerate. Here the acceleration is provided by a laser, which propels the spacecraft through radiation pressure.”

With this technology, it is even possible to reach almost the speed of light. However, the driving force from the laser beams is not always the same. There is only a limited range of distances at which the spacecraft can be accelerated that quickly, Davoyan explained.

In order to propel the spacecraft continuously at a high speed, the laser sail requires “exorbitantly high laser power” of several gigawatts or even terawatts, the researcher said. Another possibility is to reduce the mass of the spacecraft – a space telescope can hardly be transported in this way.

Travel 74.7 billion kilometers in 20 years with the Pellet Beam system

Davoyan and his team studied how to propel a 900-kilogram spacecraft with 500 astronomical units (AU) in less than 20 years. That equates to a distance of 74.7 billion kilometers: “In our case, the jet that propels the spacecraft is made up of tiny pellets, so we call it a pellet jet. Each pellet is accelerated to very high velocities by laser ablation, and then they transmit the Pellets (of Pellet Jet Propulsion) to provide momentum to propel the spacecraft.”

The small size and mass of the pellets should help the laser beams to be operated with relatively low power. “Unlike a laser beam, the pellets don’t diverge as quickly, so we can accelerate a heavier spacecraft. Because the pellets are much heavier than photons, they have greater momentum and can impart a greater force on a spacecraft,” Davoyan pointed out.

Submission is followed by a feasibility check and modeling of the various subsystems of the pellet beam concept. “With the Pellet Beam, outer planets can be reached in less than a year,” said the researcher. A distance of 100 AU should be covered in around three years and a distance of 500 AU should be achievable in around 15 years. The installation of a gravitational lens telescope at the edge of our heliosphere would therefore be possible in the foreseeable future.

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