Faster than light
Spaceships blasting through space, rear ends glowing hot, have been a fixture growing up watching and reading science fiction. We accept, somehow, that at the flip of a switch and push of a lever, Han Solo can push the Millennium Falcon into hyperspace – faster than light travel. But what is the reality? Will we ever travel the stars as simply as catching a bus?
I like exploring the realities of what I come up with, as well as the (somewhat tongue in cheek) fantasy. It’s easy to draw a spaceship and say ‘those are the engines’ and leave it at that, anyone can do that and as fun as it is, the industrial designer in me wants to know the reality – ‘sure, those are the engines, but what fuels them and how do they work? How much grunt do they have?’
I did some research into the current and theoretical concepts of what propels space craft and I have to say, the reality is a whole lot less sexy that what’s usually dished up in science fiction. Even if we ignore Einstein’s theory of relativity, you know, that thing about not being able to go faster than light (period), getting a craft even close to that speed seems like an impossibility right now and even if we could, space travel will still be measured in months, not days. Speed aside, using the yet to be tamed fusion reactor as a power source, creating enough grunt and carrying enough fuel is problem enough in itself, without having to contend with keeping the crew and passengers safe from the radiation and heat such a drive would create.
Based on all current and theoretical projections, spacecraft will look and operate nothing like we’d like to think they will… bummer.
In my designs I try to mix a bit of the reality with a bit of the fantasy. I personally don’t think we will ‘do hyperspace’, at least not in terms as it’s currently portrayed, but I do get the feeling at some point someone will hit that eureka moment and things we have found almost insurmountable will unravel and become insanely easy (the Jones reactors for example). We may need to leave earth orbit for these things to happen but I am sure they will. For now, here’s a really interesting talk about engines…
Note: Unless stated otherwise, images are not mine.