# Amount of nuclear power need to propel a shuttle at the speed of light!

vanvlizr
hello, my name is Zachary. i have little to no experience in astrophysics but i must say it is the most intriguing subject of discussion for me. what i believe i have worked out is the amount of nuclear energy (MeV) in megaelctronvolts, to propel a space shuttle (for a general number for M) at the speed of light. granted we haven't engineered a reactor capable to touch the number i have came up with but if there are any of you smart astrophysicists feel free to critique or correct my work.

J = joules
MeV = megaelectronvolts
KE = kinetic energy
M = mass
C = speed

easiest way to calculate energy in motion is KE= 1/2(m*v^2)
shuttle in mass = 2,030,000 kg
speed of light = C = 299,792,458 m/s

long story short the KE in joules = 9.12236506x10^38 J

nuclear power is measured in MegaElectronVolts (MeV)
1 MeV = 1.60217653x10^-13 J

then you have to convert our KE in joules to MeV's
9.12236506x10^38 J = 7.8018829506x10^14 MeV's

so in theory you would need to build a nuclear propelled rocket/shuttle/ship that could produce 7.8018829506x10^14 MegaElectronVolts at any given time to continuously propel the ship at the speed of light. currently our nuclear power plants cannot even come close to 0.000000001 of that amount as far as i've read. but mathematically it is possible and the next thing to do would be to find a way to increase the amount of MeV's we can produce at any given moment without losing the control of that kind of power. it's because of how powerful this could be that makes it a safety issue, which is a red flag raised by anything with the word nuclear in it. but to me i think this is the future of propulsion along with electromagnetic propulsion (i.e. rail gun) please feel free to leave any thoughts.

- Zachary

Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
There are several things wrong here. For one, you didn't do the calculation correctly, try again. The right answer, in MeV (which is an absurdly useless way of talking about macroscopic object energies) is 5.62x10^35 MeV.

Second, objects can never reach the speed of light.

Third, the kinetic energy of an object near the speed of light is not ${{1}\over{2}} mv^2$. It is given by $KE = (\gamma - 1)mc^2$ where $\gamma = {{1}\over{\sqrt{1-{{v^2}\over{c^2}}}}}$. Use that and use some sufficiently fast speed such as 0.5c or 0.75 (letting v = c will give you a 0 in the denominator and not work).

Also, you don't need a reactor that can generate huge amounts of energy "at any given time". Just like a car engine doesn't need to produce a massive amount of energy to propel a car to 150mph at any given time, neither would a spaceship. In fact, our fastest probes work on the concept of having an extremely weak "engine" that propels the object for very very long times and eventually achieves extremely fast speeds. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ion_drive

vanvlizr
thank you both i really apreciate the help, again i am only 19 and the most experience i have is watching through the wormhole with morgan freeman and high school physics. i am highly interested in learning more and perhaps someday help make an impact on the astrophysics world. also i believe that traveling by propulsion will be obsolete as far as exoplanetary exploration (which is of my utmost interest), i feel as tho the distances are so vast that we would need to develop a way to travel outside of normal means for example 4th dimension and beyond.

vanvlizr
also looking back on my work i saw where i messed up and 5.62x10^35 was one of the first numbers i came up with, i have a tendency to over think things.

Staff Emeritus
If you are truly interested in learning then start with the basics and go from there. Many popular shows on science are horribly inaccurate, so don't get too taken in by things like wormholes and extra dimensions. (At least not the way they are usually portrayed)

vanvlizr
Through the wormhole is just the name, hosted by morgan freeman it discusses the most intriguing topics in a documentary format with some of the more well know scientists. But where should i start?

Staff Emeritus
Through the wormhole is just the name, hosted by morgan freeman it discusses the most intriguing topics in a documentary format with some of the more well know scientists. But where should i start?

Hit up the academic guidance forum.

rishi.sharma
well we currently can not use nuclear power to push something at 'C',
But is it possible to convert something into 'Photons' itself , and then back to itself from 'Photons' , as energy is reversible in nature ????...this is totally fantasy question...but I wonder if that is possible .......

Staff Emeritus
well we currently can not use nuclear power to push something at 'C',
But is it possible to convert something into 'Photons' itself , and then back to itself from 'Photons' , as energy is reversible in nature ????...this is totally fantasy question...but I wonder if that is possible .......

Nothing with mass can travel at c. To convert mass into photons you would need to annihilate it (By antimatter bombardment for example). No idea how you would turn it back. Either way that doesn't really solve how to travel because all you've managed to do is destroy the original object. You'll never be able to reassemble it from the light you've produced.

dacruick
The problem with reaching c is that as an object with rest mass approaches the speed of light, the mass approaches infinity. So the faster you go, the more energy you need to increase your speed.

qraal
Hi Zachary
You can't travel at light speed via rocket propulsion and exotic options, like warp drives and wormholes, take immense amounts of negative energy which is hard to make, to say the least.

So what options are available? Rockets require carrying along all the fuel and propellant you intend to use, and if you're planning on stopping, the fuel+propellant required multiplies.

What if you don't need to carry fuel or propellant? Using lasers, particle beams or accelerators, one can send fuel and propellant to a starship. This bypasses the limitations inherent in carrying all one's fuel and propellant. Several different designs exist - Google Jordin Kare and Sail-beam or Dana Andrews Roger Lenard and magnetic-sails or Gerald Nordley and mass-beams for some examples. Such systems, given sufficient pointing accuracy and/or particle steering, can accelerate a starship to near light speed for a much lower fuel and energy budget than a pure rocket alone.

Cosmo Novice
I think the original question has been answered:

No amount of fuel or the energy we derive from it can accelerate an object with rest mass to C. As you approach C you need more and more energy to keep increasing speed until eventually you would need infinite energy to accelerate any faster (The energy requirements at the higher end of the scale would be horrendous)

Lets also remember that if you get to even 0.1c, then impacting with stellar dust would release huge amounts of energy akin to nuclear explosions!

I would disregard talks of exotic matter and Alcubierre "warp" drives and deal with proven/tested technologies for a greater understanding.

Cosmo

vanvlizr
yes i understand no resting mass can reach c, to be repeatedly told i am wrong. my whole scenario was supposed to be hypothetical and i jus wanted to check my answer. tho i do appreciate everyones insight!! thanks!!!!

I think the original question has been answered:

No amount of fuel or the energy we derive from it can accelerate an object with rest mass to C. As you approach C you need more and more energy to keep increasing speed until eventually you would need infinite energy to accelerate any faster (The energy requirements at the higher end of the scale would be horrendous)

Lets also remember that if you get to even 0.1c, then impacting with stellar dust would release huge amounts of energy akin to nuclear explosions!

I would disregard talks of exotic matter and Alcubierre "warp" drives and deal with proven/tested technologies for a greater understanding.

Cosmo

The figure I've calculate and like to use is that impact with one gram at .9c will release the energy of the Nagasaki atom bomb. For dust to be that dangerous, you would have to be a lot closer to c. The ultimate limit (short of the exotics you mention) is when CMB radiation has become blueshifted to ultra-hard gamma rays with energy sufficient to disassemble even atomic nuclei.

Said Harbieh
Sorry to spoil but traveling at the speed of light is impossible. The universe does everything to prevent you from traveling as fast. Increasing mass, reducing time and another which i sadly can't recall atm. Interesting fact: I have done some research on this and moving at 99.9999999% of the speed of light will move you in the future 100 years if you traveled at the speed for a week. That's 1 hour 40 minutes and 47.5 seconds (all my work

Cosmo Novice
The figure I've calculate and like to use is that impact with one gram at .9c will release the energy of the Nagasaki atom bomb. For dust to be that dangerous, you would have to be a lot closer to c. The ultimate limit (short of the exotics you mention) is when CMB radiation has become blueshifted to ultra-hard gamma rays with energy sufficient to disassemble even atomic nuclei.

Thankyou very much for this information; I knew I was on roughly the right track I just didnt have the exact numbers. I never considered extreme blueshifting of the CMB as a danger but obviously I should have wrt near light speeds.

Sorry to spoil but traveling at the speed of light is impossible. The universe does everything to prevent you from traveling as fast. Increasing mass, reducing time and another which i sadly can't recall atm. Interesting fact: I have done some research on this and moving at 99.9999999% of the speed of light will move you in the future 100 years if you traveled at the speed for a week. That's 1 hour 40 minutes and 47.5 seconds (all my work

Is this a joke? Can you show your reasoning for this?

Said Harbieh
@ Cosmo Novice, this is from a Stephen Hawking Documentary actually, pretty cool, it's about time travel. Strongly recommend some really interesting facts on it.

Cosmo Novice
@ Cosmo Novice, this is from a Stephen Hawking Documentary actually, pretty cool, it's about time travel. Strongly recommend some really interesting facts on it.

Ah ok, my apologies.

When you say time travel i thought you actually meant backwards - you are talking about accelerated reference frames due to relatavistic speeds. This is not time travel as such but you are correct in that using an accelerated reference frame you could "slow" time from another frame of reference. You do not "move" into the future, you just experience the passage of time slower than the person in a non accelerated reference frame - both frames of rerference are equally valid.

I think I have seen the documentary you are reffering to and it was a nice thought experiment from my recollection and on a similar thought to the twin paradox.

Said Harbieh
Dw, sounded a bit hazy at first, traveling backwards is impossible.

Lobengula
I am not a scientist , but like vanvlizr, I have always wondered why/what our limitations are in failing to achieve high speed space travel. I have read most of the answers here but what I find strange are the words, "never", "cannot", "impossible" - I thought these words do not or should not exist for scientist. If we currently are unable to do something, does it mean it can never be done or is it just our current knowledge/technology limitation. I give the example of the faster than light particle test done by Cern team - the scientific community is "up in arms" over this test and seem to be working hard to disprove it because "Einstein said..." . Seems to remind me when scientist thought the earth was flat and it was heresy to say otherwise.

Gold Member
2021 Award
There ARE things that are impossible, such as a non-zero-mass object traveling at the speed of light. It is not heresy to say otherwise, it's just ignorant.

Staff Emeritus
I am not a scientist , but like vanvlizr, I have always wondered why/what our limitations are in failing to achieve high speed space travel. I have read most of the answers here but what I find strange are the words, "never", "cannot", "impossible" - I thought these words do not or should not exist for scientist. If we currently are unable to do something, does it mean it can never be done or is it just our current knowledge/technology limitation. I give the example of the faster than light particle test done by Cern team - the scientific community is "up in arms" over this test and seem to be working hard to disprove it because "Einstein said..." . Seems to remind me when scientist thought the earth was flat and it was heresy to say otherwise.

Scientists are not "up in arms" over this. There is extreme excitement in many people at the thought of a brand new discovery. These tests designed to prove or disprove it is merely a normal aspect of the scientific method. Good experiments and tests are not biased. They will not disprove something just because the person running it is doesn't like something. The speed of light being attainable only by massless particles is something that has been highly tested and is not something we believe merely because "Einstein said so". Protons, neutrons, electrons, and pretty much every other particle has been accelerated to extreme velocities and the results follow exactly how we predicted they would. Neutrinos could very well be an exception. We don't know yet.

Staff Emeritus
I am not a scientist , but like vanvlizr, I have always wondered why/what our limitations are in failing to achieve high speed space travel. I have read most of the answers here but what I find strange are the words, "never", "cannot", "impossible" - I thought these words do not or should not exist for scientist. If we currently are unable to do something, does it mean it can never be done or is it just our current knowledge/technology limitation. I give the example of the faster than light particle test done by Cern team - the scientific community is "up in arms" over this test and seem to be working hard to disprove it because "Einstein said..." . Seems to remind me when scientist thought the earth was flat and it was heresy to say otherwise.
If a scientist says "doesn't", "can't", "impossible" they are doing so with the unspoken caveat of "all current evidence points this being..."

Scientists are not up in arms over the CERN result. There is a lot of excitement! What you should understand though is the CERN result (even if true) will not overcome everything we already know, it will add to it. Even if neutrinos travel faster than light that doesn't change the fact that decades of research show that objects with mass cannot travel at C. The reason they cannot is not because we don't know how or we can't build the required technology, it is because the closer an object get's to C the slower time goes and the longer it takes to accelerate (from the perspective of an observer). If you want to know more about this I suggest searching through the special and general relativity thread.

vanvlizr
to me the cern results are also very exciting, it doesnt mean we have to rewrite physics because like you guys have said no object with mass can travel at c, due to needing infinite acceleration and the mass also increasing infinitely. but it does mean that c is no longer the speed limit of the universe.

Cosmo Novice
to me the cern results are also very exciting, it doesnt mean we have to rewrite physics because like you guys have said no object with mass can travel at c, due to needing infinite acceleration and the mass also increasing infinitely. but it does mean that c is no longer the speed limit of the universe.

The OPERA results are not definitive and the results contradict previous results such as SN1987A so in my opinions these results are errors in the experiment and I suspect public interest will fizzle out once the experiment has been repeated and the findings are different.

vanvlizr
this could very well be a fluke but even so the laws of physics say the speed of light is the speed limit of the universe so there really shouldnt be any flukes becuase its a black and white rule. it will be very interesting to see how this all pans out.

jlorda
Einstein seems to be correct once again.... c= speed limit...for every thing...

rexregisanimi
Wonderful attempt at such a young age! Apparently a lot of people just replied without reading the replies already posted. You asked where you should start.

If you want to be a physicist (or a scientist of any kind) I would recommend you begin a process of training your mind and personality to be such.

To train your mind, learn to really enjoy mathematics and do it all of the time. I don't mean arithmetic or even calculation. Focus on really understanding where the ideas and theories in mathematics come from. Resist the urge to go further until you understand where you are reasonably well. I would highly recommend a book by Campbell titled "The Whole Craft of Number" (see https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0871502186/?tag=pfamazon01-20 for some places you can order it cheaply) as a good starting place for your study of mathematics. Also, learn to really focus. Hard working isn't about spending more time doing something or working physically longer: it's about focusing.

To train your personality, discover first who you are and how you do things best. In other words, really understand yourself. After this, convince yourself that no part of yourself is permanent. In other words, you can change anything about yourself that you would like to simply by working to develop good habits and seeking the change diligently. Then, study successful and important scientists in the field you want to study and find common themes and characteristics they all share. I would start by reading their biographies. This make take many years, perhaps even longer than a decade, but you will find yourself on the other end at a much higher place than where you started.

While doing all of this, go to college and treat every class as if it is just as important to what you're trying to learn as classes that teach you about your subject specifically. (What I mean here is that even an English class or an art class will turn-out to be absolutely critical to your study of science.)

I hope all of this made sense. Ultimately, you need to understand that the responsibility to be motivated rests on only your shoulders. Your education will only be yours to receive. Even in college, you will be self-educated - your professors cannot do it for you. You will only learn as much as your own efforts provide. Start reading a growing! ) Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would like any more help from little ol' me.

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Groothouse
Is this a joke? Can you show your reasoning for this?

I think he was referring to the fact that at near light speeds atoms move more slowly due to increased drag adding theoretical mass. The faster you travel, the more mass your "space ship" is going to have due to increased drag (Drag increases more the faster you go. It will surpass your speed at a certain point. Much like the economic theory dis-economies of scale where you can keep adding workers in a production line to increase productivity, but eventually more workers will begin to slow production.). This makes it impossible for any mass to travel at this speed as far as our understanding goes, that doesn't mean that in 20 years someone will find a break through that will yet again change our perspective, but I digress back to the topic. Since these atoms move more slowly things age slower at that speed than those on Earth, in theory we can travel into the future with this method. I'm not sure how accurate those calculations he made were but as far as I understand time travel would be possible if we could travel at those speeds. This is just what I've been taught anyway, I could be incorrect.

Staff Emeritus
I think he was referring to the fact that at near light speeds atoms move more slowly due to increased drag adding theoretical mass. The faster you travel, the more mass your "space ship" is going to have due to increased drag (Drag increases more the faster you go. It will surpass your speed at a certain point.

Drag? Try time dilation via extreme relative velocity. Drag has nothing to do with it. And traveling close to the speed of light does not add mass to an object. If it did, one could collapse oneself into a black hole just by going fast enough. Since velocity is relative, and we've seen particles travel 99.99999999+ percent the speed of light, this obviously doesn't happen, as we would have collapsed into a black hole long ago. Mass refers to the 'rest mass' of an object.

Groothouse
I didn't mean its actual mass. I cant explain the phenomena the same way it was explained to me. I was just trying to give my understanding in the case it might help

Staff Emeritus
I didn't mean its actual mass. I cant explain the phenomena the same way it was explained to me. I was just trying to give my understanding in the case it might help

No offense was intended. Being accurate and specific is very important on PF, so don't be surprised if you get corrected often. Lord knows I've been corrected probably 100 times more than you've posted so far.

Lsos
Maybe this will make you feel better Vanvlizr: while we cannot travel faster than light relative to something else, we CAN, by the same phenomenon, slow the passage of time and change the distances relative to something else. This means that it IS possible to cover vast expanses of space and travel to distant places, given enough energy. In fact, I believe that if you constantly accelerate at 1 g, you could travel across the entire universe in your lifetime. The only problem being that so much time will have passed for everyone else (including the universe), that it will be vastly different by the time you get there. IF it will be there at all.

Staff Emeritus
The only problem being that so much time will have passed for everyone else (including the universe), that it will be vastly different by the time you get there. IF it will be there at all.

Yep. Also there's the fact that at speeds close to c things like grains of dust start hitting the front of your spacecraft with enough force to vaporize it.