For millennia, skygazers have imagined what it might be like to wander among the stars. Long considered a quixotic pipe dream, interstellar travel is now taking shape as a quantifiable engineering challenge for space scientists around the world.

Last week, NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program awarded Phase I funding (roughly $125,000) to two proposals outlining propulsion systems that could enable future spacecraft to sail the extrasolar seas. NIAC is a pipeline for visionary, sci-fi-adjacent ideas for the future of spaceflight, so interstellar travel is right at home alongside other 2017 recipients (which include concepts for asteroid-dismantling softbots and synthetic organisms that create Martian farmland).

One of the proposals, entitled “Mach Effects for In Space Propulsion: Interstellar Mission,” is backed by decades of experiments and research into the Mach effect, which predicts that an object undergoing acceleration will fluctuate in mass when there is a change in its internal energy.

James Woodward, a professor at California State University, Fullerton and the author of Making Starships and Stargates, pioneered the concept of a drive powered by the Mach effect, an endeavor that has interested scientists and casual space nerds worldwide (there’s even a niche subreddit for it).

The idea is to use an electrostrictive transducer to convert the effect’s predicted mass fluctuations into thrust. This would create a propellantless engine, one of the holy grails of propulsion.


See Also:

What’s left to learn about antimatter?

The map of the dark matter ‘web’

No, Dark Energy Isn’t An Illusion

What has NASA found? Mysterious briefing to reveal ocean world discovery that will ‘inform the search for life beyond Earth’

Second ‘Great Spot’ found at Jupiter, cold and high up

The incredible auroras of Uranus

Race to destroy space junk

Tatooine-like worlds the size of Earth COULD support life

Solar storms can DRAIN Earth’s electrical charge, creating regions in the atmosphere where electrons are ‘almost vacuumed out’

ALMA Investigates ‘DeeDee,’ a Distant, Dim Member of Our Solar System

Massive “Dead Red” Galaxy Seen for First Time

These are the strangest oceans in our galaxy

(Visited 8 times, 1 visits today)