Wednesday, 24 August 2016

High speed space travel : Solar Express

The Montreal-based innovator has envisioned Solar Express , A futuristic train designed to ferry goods and passengers between celestial bodies and space stations. Using the force of gravity to slingshot around planets and moons, the locomotive would remain in constant motion similar to a ski lift, with smaller vehicles locking onto it along the way.

The current human speed record is shared equally by the trio of astronauts who flew Nasa’s Apollo 10 mission. On their way back from a lap around the Moon in 1969, the astronauts’ capsule hit a peak of 24,790mph (39,897km/h) relative to planet Earth.The Space Launch System, a new rocket that will ferry the Orion spacecraft aloft, should have its first crewed mission in 2021 – a flyby of an asteroid captured in lunar orbit – with a months-long mission to Mars then in the offing. At present, designers envision Orion’s typical maximum velocity in the neighbourhood of 19,900mph (32,000km/h). But the Apollo 10 speed record could be surpassed, even just sticking with Orion’s base configuration. Surprisingly, speed – defined as a rate of motion – in of itself is not at all a problem for us physically, so long as it’s relatively constant and in one direction. Therefore, humans should – in theory – be able to travel at rates just short of the “Universe’s speed limit”: the speed of light.

The train would comprise of a series 50-meter-long cylinders placed end to end, with each capsule divided into four cargo bays that maintenance robots could swap in-flight. A large ‘space city’ would rotate around the longitudinal axis and provide artificial gravity inside so that humans could walk and live there during the long months of travelling.

The configuration, class, and function of each car would vary, though rest areas would likely fall towards the middle of the craft, where gravity has less of an effect. The center would also contain a zero-gravity area, where certain experiments could be held, while outer zones with normal gravity would cater to human activities. The craft would initially launch with the help of rocket boosters and use stored fuel to make any necessary course adjustments. Its speed would vary depending on its size and purpose, though would reach upwards of 3,000 km/s (or 1% the speed of light). Outfitted with reinforced front and aft shields, the vessel would be accompanied by a fleet of drones equipped with missiles or lasers that would zap any meteoroids threatening to throw it off course. However we attain speeds in excess of 40,000kph, we will have to ramp up to (and down from) them patiently. Rapid acceleration and deceleration can be lethal to the human organism: witness the bodily trauma in car crashes as we go from a mere tens-of-kilometres-per-hour clip to zero in the span of seconds. The reason? A property of the Universe known as inertia, whereby any object with mass resists change to its state of motion. The concept is famously expressed in Newton’s first law of motion as “an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an outside force”.

Solar energy drawn by arrays situated along the locomotive’s path may be used to power lighting and appliances, while water for passenger use would be collected from comets and moons. The water could also be used to create hydrogen and propellant, which could be used as a fuel alternative. And asteroids captured en route could be exploited for their mineral resources.

Travel Times Onboard the Solar Express (at max distance between celestial bodies and at max speed, or 3,000 km/s):
Earth to the Moon (384,472.28 km) → 2.13 minutes
Earth to the Sun (152 million km) → 14.07 hours
Earth to Venus (261 million km) → 24.17 hours
Earth to Mars (401 million km) → 37.13 hours
Earth to Neptune (4.7 billion km) → 18.13 days

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