High speed space travel

  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

Wouldn't high speed travel in space be near impossible even if we could get to around the speed of light. Specs of space dust would most likely obliterate the spacecraft. A fleck of paint almost ruined one satalite and it was going about 22,000mph.
 

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  • #2
Garth
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Wouldn't high speed travel in space be near impossible even if we could get to around the speed of light. Specs of space dust would most likely obliterate the spacecraft. A fleck of paint almost ruined one satalite and it was going about 22,000mph.
Yes indeed, at near light velocities in the spacecraft's frame of reference interstellar dust particles would become extremely high velocity projectiles and pose a constant thread to the spacecraft's structure.

Even worse, individual interstellar atoms would become highly energetic cosmic rays that would damage the occupants cells and DNA.

A shield of some sort would have to be used to protect both the spacecraft and its occupants.

Garth
 
  • #3
Is a shield that is strong enough even possible. I figure they would need a structure that is formed by manipulating individual atoms like those carbon nanotubes. Either that or some force field like in the movies.
 
  • #4
DaveC426913
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Is a shield that is strong enough even possible. I figure they would need a structure that is formed by manipulating individual atoms like those carbon nanotubes. Either that or some force field like in the movies.
It doesn't have to be "rigid" strong. Water tanks do a pretty good job of absorbing incoming matter.
 
  • #5
russ_watters
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Thread cleaned-up and reopened. Lets try to stay on topic - it is a good question.
 
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  • #7
That sounds awesome. I wonder if that plasma is dangerous to the touch.
 
  • #8
Gokul43201
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Water tanks do a pretty good job of absorbing incoming matter.
How do you keep the tank itself from failing and spilling all the water?
 
  • #9
Chronos
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Ordinary photons would also be problematic near light speeds. They would blueshift into high energy gamma rays. Physical barriers do not appear to be a realistic option. A huge amount [mass] of any currently known materials would be necessary to provide adequate protection. Some sort of 'force field' appears necessary. A worm hole generator [a purely hypothetical device] would be the travel method of choice over long distances.
 
  • #10
russ_watters
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How do you keep the tank itself from failing and spilling all the water?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-sealing_fuel_tank

Anyway, we can scale back the OP's question a little bit. Near-light speed is not feasible, but many of these problems still exist at .1% of light speed. That's 670,000 mph, which would get us out to visit Jupiter in a 'mere' month and a half. It was the space shuttle that that paint chip damaged when it hit on an opposing orbit, for a closing speed of around 30,000 mph. It was estimated to be a mere .2mm in diameter, yet cracked a windshield. Imagine if it had been a bolt. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_gx5204/is_2002/ai_n19124256
 
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  • #11
That sounds awesome. I wonder if that plasma is dangerous to the touch.
I'm going to guess that yes, it's probably electrified to very high voltages. It might be rather shocking. :)
 
  • #12
LURCH
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I was thinking about the plasma thing, too. If we utalize plasma drives to propell spacecraft, perhaps that same plasma could directed around the inhabited portion of the vessel before exiting the rear to provide propulsion. This highly-charged envelope, in addition to the magnetic fields used to contain it, would be an effective barrier to many dangerous particles, and most types of damaging radiation in space. Sort of like taking the Earth's magnetosphere and ionosphere with you.
 
  • #13
Contrapositive
Plasma shields might protect against radiation. But what about slightly larger stuff? What about the sending probes to other star systems, which would have to travel at a significant portion of the speed of light and pass through the oort cloud. I'm unfamilar with the exact density of the oort cloud, but it's probably unlikely that a probe would get hit by a large asteroid. But it would seem like there would be good amount of mircoscopic junk floating around. Even something a hundredth the size of a pea would hit the craft with energy of a car crash.
 
  • #14
Plasma shields might protect against radiation. But what about slightly larger stuff? What about the sending probes to other star systems, which would have to travel at a significant portion of the speed of light and pass through the oort cloud. I'm unfamilar with the exact density of the oort cloud, but it's probably unlikely that a probe would get hit by a large asteroid. But it would seem like there would be good amount of mircoscopic junk floating around. Even something a hundredth the size of a pea would hit the craft with energy of a car crash.
So we will probably need a lot of redundancy in such ships, including physical shields, plasma shields and self sealing fuel tanks. We should also have some rather sophisticated long range scanning radar systems that will allow us to observe what is in front of us over very great distances. Cruising through light plasma flows are no problem. A rock the size of a golf ball however could be life threatening. We might want to have a "bug zapper' features built into the plasma shields to ensure the destruction of paint sized chips and things that might be more easily destroyed by electrical current flow.
 
  • #15
Maybe they could use somekind of electrical field that would push particles out of the way. I would doubt this would work fast enough. Either that or the electrical field would have to be send out miles upon miles ahead. Also to say that these particles are actually charged.
 
  • #16
DaveC426913
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Maybe they could use somekind of electrical field that would push particles out of the way. I would doubt this would work fast enough. Either that or the electrical field would have to be send out miles upon miles ahead. Also to say that these particles are actually charged.
That's how a Bussard ramjet works. Magnetic field as much as 100 miles in diameter.
 

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