Top 5 Designs for Interstellar Spaceships

Top 5 Designs for Interstellar Spaceships

Interstellar travel has always been an intriguing concept for scientists. Over the years, they have tried to come up with some interesting ideas for spacecraft propulsion. While some of them are just theoretical, others could pave the way for the perfect interstellar travel system. Let’s take a look at the 5 most interesting designs for interstellar spaceships.

Ion Propulsion

An ion thruster or ion drive is a form of electric propulsion used for spacecraft propulsion. It creates the necessary thrust through accelerating ions (positively-charged) by utilizing electricity. Ion thrusters have been designed for all kinds of missions ranging from communications satellites to long-distance ventures throughout our solar system. They ionize propellant by adding or removing electrons to produce ions.

Most of these thrusters use electron bombardment: a high-energy electron (negative charge) collides with a propellant atom (neutral charge), releasing electrons from the propellant atom and resulting in a positively charged ion. The resulting gas is a mixture of positive ions and negative electrons which makes it a neutral system at a macroscopic level.

Nuclear Bombs

Nuclear Bombs - Interstellar Spaceships

The idea of rocket propulsion by combustion of explosive substance was first proposed by a Russian explosives expert, Nikolai Kibalchich, in 1881. Today, chemical propellant rocket engines are operational but their speed and efficiency can be improved. One possible idea for the next-generation rocket engine requires us to bring back Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) systems.

A nuclear thermal propulsion rocket engine would use a small nuclear reactor to generate heat from uranium fuel. That thermal energy would then be transferred to a liquid propellant, probably liquid hydrogen, which expands into a gas and is shot out through a nozzle to produce the needed thrust.


Ramjets - Interstellar Spaceships

A ramjet is a form of air-breathing jet engine that uses the engine’s forward motion to compress incoming air. Quite clearly, ramjets cannot produce thrusts at rest so there must be other propulsion mechanisms (for providing the initial push) in the ramjet interstellar spaceships. These jets work most efficiently at supersonic speeds like 3,700 km/h of Mach 3. Having said that, the ramjet’s apparent simplicity is deceptive because it takes cutting-edge aeronautical engineering, modern materials, and precision manufacturing to pull this technique off. Ramjets are more efficient over long distances than rockets but suffer a significant disadvantage: They are useless at low velocities.

Black Hole Starship

Black Hole Starship - Interstellar Spaceships

This is where we put on our tinfoil hats. A black hole starship is a theoretical idea for interstellar spaceships that will travel by using a black hole as the energy source. Although this idea is beyond the capabilities of current technology, a black hole starship offers some advantages compared to other possible methods.

For example, in nuclear fusion or fission, only a small proportion of the mass is converted into energy, so enormous quantities of material would be needed. A black hole propulsion system is far more efficient than the other methods discussed. Although the process of generating such a starship is extremely massive, it does not require any new Physics. Another benefit of this spaceship is that it will absorb new matter and will ultimately become a new energy source by radiating the absorbed energy.

Solar Sails

Solar Sails

A solar sail is a proposed method of developing interstellar spaceships that may use radiation pressure exerted by sunlight on large mirrors. A useful analogy for this spacecraft is a sailing boat; the light exerting a force on the mirrors is akin to a sail being blown by the wind. High-energy laser beams could be used as an alternative light source to exert much greater force than would be possible using sunlight, a concept known as Beam Sailing.

Light is made up of particles called photons. Photons don’t have any mass, but as they travel through space they do have momentum. When light hits a solar sail—which has a bright, mirror-like surface—the photons in that light bounce off the sail (i.e. they reflect off it, just like a mirror). As the photons hit the sail, their momentum is transferred to it which provides a small push. Similarly, they give it another small push upon bouncing off the sail. Although these pushes are very weak, they can cause some significant thrust in the absence of air resistance (because of the vacuum of space).

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