Aerospace Is near light speed achievable?

  1. assume if enough fuel is there is it possible to achieve near light speed?
    what are the factors preventing this?

    how we can link relativistic mass to the thrust of rocket at near light speed?

    assume mass of spacecraft is constant and enough fuel is there then can chemical rockets can reach near light speed? if not does relativistic mass has anything to do with this

    at higher speed does more energy is required to expel gases?

    if constant thrust is given is it possible to achieve near light speed?

    What is the relativistic version of thrust equation?
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2011
  2. jcsd
  3. Hi sr241,

    First note that according to relativity, no matter how fast the rocket goes, the people inside always see light going at lightspeed (the constant c). This is elementary relativity.

    Second, to the people outside the rocket, the major obstacle to reaching relativistic speeds is the amount of energy needed. Machines such as the LHC are required to send subatomic particles to near lightspeed, so we can't really imagine a realistic machine that could send a macroscopic object to such speeds, much less a human-carrying rocket.
  4. actually my friend is working on an a rocket engine that doesn't work on mass expulsion

    so, if constant thrust is given is it possible to achieve near light speed?

    What is the relativistic version of thrust equation?
  5. DaveC426913

    DaveC426913 16,541
    Gold Member

    Well then it isn't a rocket...


    Use the Lorentzian transformation to calculate the addition of velocities.

    Very simplistically:
    If x thrust over time t gets you to .9c, then a greater thrust over more time will get you to .99c, and a still greater thrust over still more time will get you to .999c. No amount of thrust over any length of time will get you to c.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 8, 2011
  6. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    At face value that sounds like a violation of the laws of physics.
    Um, well yes, of course if we throw the laws of physics out the window we can do whatever we want. But this is a forum where we discuss reality so your question was answered in a realistic way: the answer is no.
    What's the "thrust equation"? I think you may mean the relativistic rocket equations:

    There may be an automatic calculator out there for it but I'm not sure (you can google).
  7. DaveC426913

    DaveC426913 16,541
    Gold Member

    Russ, there are lots of designs for propulsion that don't involve mass expulsion. Solar sails are an obvious one.

    True, he said "rocket", but that is obviously not the word he should have used (since a rocket is defined by mass expulsion). He hould have simply said "a propulsion unit" that does not expel mass.

    The fact that his friend is almost surely building a pipe dream does not negate the principle.

    The answer is yes. If constant thrust were provided, one would approach light speed. An example of this is a Bussard Ramjet.

    Just because you and I are both pretty sure the poster is barking up a whimsical tree doesn't mean we shouldn't give him accurate answers. We just need to qualify them.
  8. what are the safety hazards in sending a fission reactor to space
  9. DaveC426913

    DaveC426913 16,541
    Gold Member

    In fact, it has been a popular choice for powering our deep space probes for quite some time now.

    So... no hazards that aren't manageable.

    (They're not technically nuclear reactors. That would be too heavy. They're radioisotope thermoelectric generators.)
  10. is fission thermo electric reactors are viable for electric propulsion like MPD or ion drive?
    does their weight to energy or weight to thrust ratio allow space mission
  11. sr241, (assuming I have the right thread) please take note of my email.
  12. jambaugh

    jambaugh 1,798
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Remember that no matter how much one accelerates one is traveling at speed 0 relative to one's own frame and that the speed of light in that frame is just as far away as ever. To be more accurate one should speak of the delta-V of a spacecraft relative to the starting frame.

    For a non-relativistic rocket this is dictated by the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation:
    [tex]\Delta V = V_{exhaust} \cdot \ln\left( \frac{m_0}{m_1}\right)[/tex]
    where V_exhaust is the exhaust velocity of the ejected reaction mass, and the mass ratio is the initial mass divided by the final mass of the rocket.

    There is a relativistic version:
    [tex]\Delta V = c \cdot\tanh\left( \frac{V_{exhaust}}{c}\ln\left( \frac{m_0}{m_1}\right)\right)[/tex]

    To achieve a "delta Vee" approaching light-speed one needs either near-light-speed reaction mass exhaust, light-speed reaction "mass" as in a photonic drive, or external reaction "mass" as with a light-sail or a Bussard ram-scoop.

    If one has a photonic drive (eject electromagnetic radiation out the back of your ship via lasers, masers, or a radio antenna) then the exhaust velocity is c and the relativistic delta-V equation becomes:
    [tex]\Delta V = c \cdot\tanh\left( \ln\left( \frac{m_0}{m_1}\right)\right)=...= c\cdot\frac{m_0^2-m_1^2}{m_0^2+m_1^2}[/tex]
    To achieve a Delta-V of say 50% c you would need to "burn" about 42.3% of your initial mass directly to energy. (say by matter anti-matter annihilation. Many problems there including finding a light-weight means of directing the gamma ray energy emitted by such a reaction in one direction.)

    It is useful to look at the light-drive case because any other reaction mass method will be less efficient and so still requires either direct conversion of mass or externally supplied power.

    The Bussard ramjet idea developed by Robert W. Bussard, assumes we crack fusion power and involves using very large magnetic fields to collect and compress interstellar hydrogen. The hydrogen is then fused for energy and ejected for reaction mass. Since it burns interstellar hydrogen both for reaction mass and energy it has theoretically unlimited Delta V (as a % of c) if one neglects issues of drag vs thrust. Another advantage of this idea is the magnetic scoop would shield the payload from the impact of high energy protons at relativistic speeds since these are what are being diverted for use as fuel.

    Another possibility: Light-sails also do not need to carry fuel but rather use the momentum of reflected light for relative motion and thus theoretically could achieve a delta-V close to c. They of course depend on a source of light and using stars has the added difficulty of their gravity being proportional to their light output at a given distance. Ideally one would push these with a directed beam of electromagnetic radiation, say a bank of orbital mirrors at home focusing sunlight toward the sail, or artificially transmitted EM radiation.

    One interesting and potentially viable idea is the Starwisp concept. It is a microwave "light"-sail pushed by orbital transmitters back home. It can be powered by the very microwaves which are used to push it. This idea seems to me to be the most viable means for us to send probes to the nearest stars.
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2011
  13. From just that rather short wiki entry alone, it doesn't seem particularly viable to me.
  14. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    I have a very good crack-dar, Dave. The fact that he called it a "rocket engine" implies to me that he means a reactionless rocket PMM, not a solar sail.
    The Bussard Ramjet is still just theoretical/science fiction.
    I gave him the same answer you did, Dave, my qualifications were just different!
  15. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    It can be done, sure. I think for missions closer to the sun solar panels are typically used, but for something deeper into space, some form of nuclear power would be the way to go.
  16. please tell me what is the fundamental law or laws that prevents non-mass expulsion type propulsion device? the propulsion device must use energy stored inside space craft only.

    ignore solar sail or laser propulsion where energy source is from out side.

    you must agree that an efficient non-mass expulsion type propulsion device is the next best thing to wormholes.
    sr241, I have explained why your design won't work. If you would like to get a second opinion, please post the design here and allow others to comment on it. I assure you, it will be the same response.

    If they worked, they would be one of the best ways to travel around the universe. But they don't. The "fundamental laws" that prevent such devices are the basics - Newtons laws of motion.
  18. DaveC426913

    DaveC426913 16,541
    Gold Member

    There is no fundamental law. We just don't have any viable way of doing it.
  19. Just for clarity, my post refers specifically to sr241's design itself regarding Newtons Laws, and specifically conservation of momentum.
  20. DaveC426913

    DaveC426913 16,541
    Gold Member

    Anything that is not yet built is theoretical/science fiction. That does not change the answer to the question 'what would happen if you could apply constant thrust'.

    I know where you're coming from; I can smell the crackdom too. It's just that my philosophy is to facilitate much as possible (peppered with caveats and warnings) until they violate physics. I don't see the good in shutting people down on principle.

    Anyway, that's two takes on the same question. Good for the OP to see differing viewpoints.
  21. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    Dave, I'm not sure if you took jardenjames up on his pm offer to view sr241's "invention", but it was, as I expected, a reactionless propulsion PMM. It violates conservation of momentum.
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