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A Proposed Star-drive propulsion system

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A Proposed Star-drive propulsion system that would Enable Interstellar Travel: NASA’s Helical Engine Design that Uses Closed-Cycle Propellant.

by William Brown | Nov 5, 2019 | Science News |


This experimental propulsion design belongs to a class of designs which can be called fuel-less. Such designs require power but no source of fuel which shoots out the back of the craft. This design is a type of ion drive, but one without any exhaust to it. It is a closed system where no new ions are needed or exhausted. Its proposed power source would be a nuclear reactor.

The present design could not lift the craft off of the ground in the first place, but if in high orbit would enable the craft  to progressively accelerate toward any planet or star at speeds only limited by the structure of the craft. The most well-known of such a hypothetical propulsion system is called EM drive. Although there have been a great many tests on proto-types of this design, the jury is still out as of Dec. 2019, whether the design really produces thrust, or if its apparent thrust is produced by heat or another factor which would negate its claim of thrust.

Upon reading the above design concept it seems very interesting but many would say that such a fuel-less propulsion design violates the laws of physics and therefore could never work, just like the “impossible” EM drive they would contend.

If we were ever able to build a working model of such a device its first use would likely be for planetary travel. Instead of 9-12 months traveling to mars it might take only three weeks. Once such a craft would reach maximum velocity, about half way to its destination, it would need to turn around and decelerate for the other half of the distance. For power it could use a small fission or fusion reactor, with no fuel other than the conversion of reactor power to electrical power.  Of course a  fission or fusion reactor could provide propulsion by itself without such a device, as long it was not too heavy for lift off by itself or by rocket power.

But such devices like this, or the EM drive, are still in the planning or testing phases. Who knows when, or if, any of them will progress beyond proto-type design, but since NASA is in charge of this design it is in good hands and will progress as fast as funding would allow.

Lockheed’s version of a small nuclear-fusion reactor is supposedly moving forward. If or when it ever goes into operation it could be used for both commercial, and government power generation programs. As a propulsion system such a craft could  also be light enough to lift-off from Earth.  It probably wouldn't need any of the devices discussed above and by itself could totally transform the Earth by clean power generation, roughly at the same costs or possibly lower than the prices we are now paying for power. But if its cost for power generation would be much higher to generate power, this would not be a problem for spacecraft where the only need for fuel would be the reactor. Maybe the biggest contribution for such a light-weight reactor will be for space travel.


If any of these devices have the ability  to lift off from Earth in the first place, they would not have to acquire great speeds like a rocket because all would provide continuous acceleration.  Those that would not have such initial lift-off power could also be a hybrid type of jet going up like a conventional jet, then use their lift engines to fly into orbit and then away from the Earth's gravity. Such aircraft that could at least lift off their own weight could fly like a conventional aircraft with wings until it could no longer get lift from the atmosphere. After that it could just continue upward into space applying more power, then fly to the space station(s), space hotels and colonies, colonies or orbiting stations on the moon, mars, the asteroid belt , exploration trips, etc., as slow or as fast as they wanted to go.  Once away from Earth's gravity  and having momentum the craft would gain velocity by continuous acceleration using very little power. They could go faster outside the plane of the solar system, for safety’s sake, to have less contact with small matter. For landing, they would decelerate before they reached Earth or planets so they could land like an ordinary big jet on Earth, without all the atmospheric frictional heat that the shuttle had.

In time such devices and craft would expectedly be far less expensive than our present space transportation systems, and more versatile whereby such craft could land  easily on the moon or on mars at locations and times related to outside temperatures.  A great many spacecraft would eventually be involved, government and private. Commercial passenger flights would follow as colonies would also become public from many governments. For small fusion reactors and beginning colonies, power could be generated for colonists from the spacecraft alone to start with.




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