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Researcher at NASA proposes a “helical motor” that could reach 99% of the speed of light

In a new study by David Burns, a researcher at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, a jet engine is mentioned that could reach 99% of the speed of light.

The study, conducted by New Scientist, was published last August on the NASA Technical Reports Server (but the author explains that he did it without NASA “sponsoring” himself) and suggests what the summary calls a “new concept of propulsion in space where the propellant is not ejected from the engine but captured to create an almost infinite specific impulse.”

It would be a “helical motor” that exploits the same effects of mass change that occur when you come very close to the speed of light. Undoubtedly ambitious purposes, for which the same Scientist article, which explains in more detail how it works (first link below), speaks of skepticism about this research from some quarters.

The engine should have a certain size: 200 meters long and at least 12 meters in diameter. Basically, it would not even be very efficient, since 165 MW of power would be required to generate only 1 Newton of thrust. On Earth, such a motor would have no reason to exist, but in space, where there is no form of friction, or almost, such a motor could allow over time to reach very high speeds of up to 99% the speed of light, according to Barnes himself.

Even if, as the researcher himself admits, it is a concept that is “enormously inefficient,” there could be possibilities to maintain the dynamics and use them indefinitely.


Background info and sources:

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2218685-nasa-engineers-helical-engine-may-violate-the-laws-of-physics/

https://ntrs.nasa.gov/search.jsp?R=20190029657

Image source:

https://www.thesun.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/DD-COMPOSITE-NASA-ENGINE.jpg

Martin Hill

An accomplished journalist and freelancer, Martin has held a long career in media and has worked for numerous different agencies. He was an editor for the Arizona Business Gazette for over 10 years before joining the Tucson Weekly (tucsonweekly.com) and founding Science of Change, a new publication with the aim of reporting on science news over the internet. Beyond having extensive writing and research experience, Martin is also a science enthusiast with a passion for science and technology. In his younger life, he had studied mechanical engineering before moving on to journalism.
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