posted on Jul, 30 2008 @ 05:58 PM
Originally posted by amantine
Yes, these vehicles do work. Light from a laser is directed at a reflective surface. The light has momentum and transfers that momentum to the
reflective surface. It seems like they are already working on a commercial application of this technology.
I highly doubt there will be commercial applications for a photon drive. It's just too inefficient. It has an infinite specific impulse, but it takes
something like 3 megajoules per newton of thrust. That is simply untenable.
You could, perhaps, use a laser on the ground to vaporize part of a target on a vehicle, and use that for thrust, but that's kind of a different
idea. (the target could even be air, if it were still in atmosphere.)
reply to post by robertfenix
Uh, no. They're nothing like each other. An ion drive works simply by firing ions as reaction mass. This is convenient because they can be
manipulated by electric fields. Ions are massive particles, so Ion drives have a limited but still rather high specific impulse, with a tiny amount of
thrust, for relatively low power.
Photon drives work but either emitting or reflecting photons, which are massless particles (the key here is that they have momentum, based on their
frequency). photon drives have an infinite specific impulse, but a truly ridiculously low thrust and energy efficiency.
reply to post by Viendin
It IS an ion drive. Just a high power one. Since ion drives use so little propellant in the first place, engineers find that it's better to use much
lighter, smaller power sources and accelerators to fire a higher volume of particles. There's a good scientific reason for this: The equation for
momentum is p=mv. The equation for kinetic energy is Ke=1/2 mv^2. So the energy required to accelerate something goes up with the square of the
velocity you intend to get it up to. The momentum only goes up with the first power. Ion drives use very little propellant, so all that really matters
is the mass of the power source supplying it. Most spacecraft have to make do with solar panels, which are far to weak in reasonable amounts to run a
real linear particle accelerator as an engine.
It's an elegant idea, but not yet practical.