Next Big Future introduces us to the Mach Effect Thruster (MET) propulsion system, an electrically powered engine that, if functional, would mean the ability to "maintain a steady acceleration into and through interstellar space without the need to carry along propellants." NASA's phase 1 effort will focus on improving current devices, design power and electrical systems, and building a reliable model of the device. Additional information here.
If the Woodward effect is confirmed and if an engine can be designed to use applied Mach effects, then a spacecraft may be possible that could maintain a steady acceleration into and through interstellar space without the need to carry along propellants. Woodward presented a paper about the concept at the NASA Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Program Workshop conference in 1997 and continued to publish on this subject thereafter.
Even ignoring for the moment the impact on interstellar travel, future spacecraft driven by impulse engines based on Mach effects would represent an astounding breakthrough in terms of interplanetary spaceflight alone, enabling the rapid colonization of the entire solar system. Travel times being limited only by the specific power of the available power supplies and the acceleration human physiology can endure, they would allow crews to reach any moon or planet in our solar system in less than three weeks. For example, a typical one-way trip at an acceleration of 1 g from the Earth to the Moon would last only about 4 hours; to Mars, 2 to 5 days; to the asteroid belt, 5 to 6 days; and to Jupiter, 6 to 7 days.
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