Have you ever wished for a lightspeed engine like in Star Wars or Star Trek, where you can travel to any part of the universe in a matter of minutes, but assumed that it was too advanced? Well, this invention might actually happen in our lifetime!
Although the great majority of space is a vacuum, people have a natural desire to explore and learn what is out there because curiosity is just a part of our nature. Scientists and engineers world-wide are working to build the fastest engine known to humankind. One man in particular, David Burns, is working to design a near-lightspeed engine.
The "Helical Engine," designed by NASA engineer David Burns, is propelled by a particle accelerator and is created to launch us to near light-speeds. However, before we get into what the engine does, let's discuss the concept. Burn's idea is that if he has a box in which an object can slide back and forth in a frictionless area, he can push the object in one direction, and when it hits the other side, it will bounce backward, as will the box's recoil direction. The box simply moves back and forth, not forward. What if the mass of the ring is greater when it slides in the opposite direction than the other direction? The answer is that the box would experience a tremendous boost in that direction over time because it would continue to experience less force at one end with less mass and more force at the other end with more mass. According to Einstein's theory of relativity, objects gain mass as they approach the speed of light, which can be accomplished by accelerating ions at near-light speeds to help accelerate the craft.
Burn's engine takes advantage of the mass-altering effects that occur at near-light speeds. According to Burns, if given enough time and power, the engine could achieve 99% of the speed of light because, for every newton of thrust produced, it requires 165 megawatts of energy. Burns additionally claims that a significant amount of the energy expended by the engine could be saved through heat and radiation. Therefore, despite being largely impractical, it is a tremendous help in our pursuit of better and faster engines.
Various approaches have been tested. For instance, in the late 1970s, a US inventor named Robert Cook developed an engine that theoretically converted centrifugal force into linear motion. The EM drive was designed by a different inventor, Roger Shawyer, to generate thrust from trapped microwaves. However, neither of these has been successful, and it is widely assumed that they are both impractical.
If this does not happen soon, don't give up because SpaceX has also developed extremely fast engines with which they claim can travel up to 65 kilometers per second, which is roughly the speed of NASA's Helios 2 space probe, which travels at around 70 kilometers per second. Unlike Helios 2's liquid hydrogen propellant, which takes up a lot of storage space, SpaceX's electric thruster is much larger than Helios 2 and also has higher fuel efficiency. It uses charged plasma to produce ions that propel the spaceship forward. Ion thrusters could be the key to exploring our solar system and beyond.
We already have the blueprints and people to develop this kind of engine, all we need is time and a dream.