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Antimatter Propulsion: A Critical Look

Antimatter’s allure for deep space propulsion is obvious. If matter is congealed energy, we need to find the best way to extract that energy, and our existing rockets are grossly inefficient. Even the best chemical rocket pulls only a billionth of the energy available in the atoms of its fuel, while a fission reaction, powerful as it seems, is tapping one part in a thousand of what is available. Fusion reactions like those in a hydrogen bomb use up something on the order of one percent of the total energy within matter. But antimatter can theoretically unlock all of it.

Freeing Trapped Energy

The numbers are startling. A kilogram of antimatter, annihilating with ordinary matter, can produce ten billion times the amount of energy released when a kilogram of TNT explodes. Heck, a single gram of antimatter, which is about 1/25th of an ounce, would get you as much energy as you could produce from the fuel tanks of two dozen Space Shuttles. This is the ultimate kick if we can figure out a way to harvest all this energy, but as particle physicist and author Frank Close (Oxford University) shows in his new book Antimatter (Oxford University Press, 2009), we’re a long way from knowing how to go about this.


Close is a good, clear writer. Even the most abstruse parts of Antimatter — and that includes a thorny section on Paul Dirac’s use of the mathematical tools called ‘matrices’ to plumb the depths of antimatter’s role in the universe — are rendered forthrightly and understandably. And the conundrum of antimatter storage receives considerable attention. We can store the stuff in magnetic bottles but if we store positrons or antiprotons alone, we face the problem that like charges repel, which means we can’t put in large quantities (even if we had them) due to the repulsive forces that inevitably cause leakage. Neutral anti-hydrogen is also tricky because it is not responsive to the electric and magnetic fields we were hoping to use to keep matter and antimatter apart.

Current Storage and Proposed Options

You can see what this does to our thinking about antimatter in spacecraft. We’ve got to find ways to store antimatter in quantity that aren’t themselves so heavy that they become a huge factor in total mass. Of Gerald Smith’s work at Penn State and, later, Positronics Research, Close is skeptical. In one Smith paper, the authors outlined the basics of a trap that would carry a billion antiprotons for ten days. This was meant to be a prototype of a trap that would carry 1014 antiprotons for up to 120 days, sufficient for a round trip Mars mission. There is much more in the Smith proposal, but Close sees little to recommend it, at least so far:

This appears to have been more a management plan of how one would approach such a challenge rather than any tested proven route to a new technology. Ten years later, nothing like this has been achieved, nor was any of the work at CERN devoted to such endeavours. The maximum number of antiprotons ever stored in a trap is a million, and the focus of current research is on containing small numbers for precision measurements.

Antimatter in Quantity?

And we also have to reckon with ways to produce antimatter in sufficient quantity. Right now the energy inefficiency is enormous. Says Close:

…since the discovery of the antiproton in 1955, with LEAR at CERN and similar technology at Fermilab, the total amounts to less than a millionth of a gram. If we could collect together all that antimatter and then annihilate it with matter, we would only have enough energy to light a single electric light bulb for a few minutes. By contrast the energy expended in making it could have illuminated Times Square or Piccadilly Circus.

At the current rate (maybe a nanogram a year costing tens of millions of dollars), it would take hundreds of millions of years and over $1,000 trillion to produce one gram of antimatter. Or try this out:

To make a gram of antiprotons you will need 6 x 1023 of them, while a gram of positrons would require 1026. The most intense source of antiprotons is at Fermilab, USA. Their record production over a month in June 2007 produced 1014 antiprotons. Were they able to do this every month for a year they could produce about 1015, which equates to 1.5 billionths of a gram, or nanograms. Were we able to retain all of these antiprotons and annihilate them with 1.5 nanograms of matter, the total energy released would be about 270 Joules, which is like five seconds illumination by a feeble light bulb.

A Sail Concept Using Antimatter

No easy solutions in Close’s book. The antimatter rocket idea — annihilate antimatter with matter to produce gamma rays that heat a propellant before expelling it out the back of the rocket — sounds good until we reckon in the impracticality of storage and the current inability to produce antimatter in quantity. Antimatter is excellent at showing you the state of the art and where we may be heading in the near future, but it also reminds us of the need to modify our space concepts. Steve Howe’s fission-based ‘antimatter sail,’ for example, is built around the idea that we have huge constraints on antimatter production.


Think of a sail coated with a layer of uranium-235. A tiny amount of antimatter released from the spacecraft creates fission which kicks the payload to 116 kilometers per second, in Howe’s formulation of a mission to 250 AU. The key is the storage of antihydrogen, an antimatter atom consisting of an antiproton orbited by a positron, in the form of frozen pellets that evaporate as they drift toward the sail. We’re talking about a sail a mere fifteen feet in diameter, relying on antimatter for its punch.

Image: The Howe concept, a sail using antimatter to trigger a fission reaction. Credit: NIAC/Steve Howe.

Rather than thinking in terms of large storage tanks of the stuff, we’ll have to learn to work with what we’ve got or what we can harvest in the Solar System. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be future breakthroughs in production — at least, we can’t rule these out — but realistic antimatter work for the near term will have to involve ways to store tiny amounts in efficient containers and use them to catalyze other reactions. Steve Howe’s NIAC paper on the antimatter sail not only discusses a propulsion method but NIAC also has his report on ingenious storage options. Despite NIAC’s closure, we can still get the benefit of reports like Howe’s online.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • kurt9 June 3, 2009, 15:42

    Another function of Tau Zero is to compile and publish papers that NIAC would do if it still existed.

  • Administrator June 3, 2009, 16:12

    Excellent point, kurt9.

  • James M. Essig June 3, 2009, 17:04

    Hi Paul;

    I thought that I would offer a couple of corrections on some of your figures.

    1 kilogram of matter mixed with one kilogram of antimatter would yield 1.8 x 10 EXP 18 Joules which is equal to about 45 megatons of TNT. Since TNT has a yield of about 1,000 calories per gram, or about 4,200 Joules per gram, the combination of one kilogram of matter with one kilogram of antimatter would yield the equivalent of [(1.8 x 10 EXP 18)/(4.2 x 10 EXP 6)] kilograms of TNT or about 0.425 x 10 EXP 12 kilograms = 42.5 billion kilograms.

    1.5 nanograms of matter mixed with 1.5 nanograms of antimatter has a yield of (1.5 x 10 EXP – 9)(42.5 x 10 EXP 9) = 63.75 grams of TNT which has an energy yield of (63.75)(4,200) Joules ~ 200,ooo Joules or 200 kJ.

    Last time I checked out the website of Positronics, they were at least studying the feasibility of producing a stable bound state of positrons and electrons in the form of two particle atoms of positronium. The idea is that the positronium would somehow be shocked or perturbed into an unstable state and as a result, undergo complete annihilation. The positron and the electron comprising an atom would be far enough apart in an orbital like arrangement such that they would not react in a stable bound state. The beauty of such a technology is that large quantities of positronium could be produced and stored compactly without coulombic self repulsion.

    But still, even if the production of antimatter could be amped way up, It might be a little scary to carry a large quantity of nitroglycerin like positronium. Perhaps the stuff could be stored in numerous safely seperated and towed behind ship pods.

    I really like the idea of antihydrogen ice, being that it could be dense as well as electrically neutral and stable. Perhaps the antihydrogen ice could be towed behind a relativisitic space craft and be shielded from interstellar electrons and ions.

    What would be really awesome would be some sort of neutron or nuclear matter density antimatter of large macroscopic mass quantities. As Adam has pointed out in the past, neutronium would be unstable and has a half life of that of a neutron or about 15 minutes. However, if antinuetronium could some how be stabilized such as by being doped with with non-neutron fermions in an appropriate crystalline pattern, perhaps super dense antimatter fuel could be produced.

    By using the relativistic rocket equation and assumming a perfect antimatter matter rocket fuel Isp expressed as 1C, one can see how large fueled wieght to dry wieght ration antimatter rockets can achieve extreme gamma factors. When I plugged in the values and achieved an M0/M1 value of 100,000, I came up with a gamma factor of 50,000. Electrodynamic field effect breaking systems could be used to slow the craft down thus avoiding the need for rocket thrust slow down.

    When one assumes that only the antimatter portion of the rocket fuel is carried on board, and the matter portion is collected in route, the effective Isp of the onboard rocket fuel is 2C since Isp can also be expressed as the effective momentum delivered to the space craft per unit of fuel.

    If we learn how to produce very large quantities of antimatter, then it would seem that practically speaking, virtually unlimited gamma factors could be obtainable.

  • philw1776 June 3, 2009, 17:18

    Antimatter must be handles with care. You must never, ever Oh shi…..

  • Administrator June 3, 2009, 19:46

    James Essig wrote:

    I thought that I would offer a couple of corrections on some of your figures.

    Jim, those weren’t my figures. I drew them directly from Frank Close’s book. Close does go into the ‘stretched’ positronium idea, by the way, and takes a ‘wait and see’ attitude, although he clearly has serious doubts about it.

  • Adam June 3, 2009, 21:09

    Hi All

    I remain an antimatter sceptic as there’s no good way of storing it or utilising the gamma-rays its reactions produce. Even “perfect” reactions of the stuff are problematic because only 1/3 of its mass ends up as charged pions that can be channelled – the rest is useless, dangerous gamma-ray ‘shine’. The best use of it is as a trigger and booster of fission/fusion reactions like in AIM-Star and Charles Pellegrino’s low-speed “Valkyrie”. Higher speeds are impractical and wasteful. Better to use beamed energy, with all its problems, than make antimatter in the hope of propelling rockets with it.

  • James M. Essig June 3, 2009, 22:05

    Hi Paul;

    I plan on ordering Close’s book tommorrow. The book sounds fascinating. It is interesting that we went from nuclear fission at an maximum theoretical mass to energy conversion efficiency of about 0.1 %, and then to fusion which is being developed for energy purposes at about 0.7 % conversion efficiency, and now we are starting to consider matter antimatter reactions as a power source at a maxmum 100 % conversion efficiency.

    I think Joules Verne would be proud of our accomplished application of nuclear fission energy and the ongoing research regarding fusion and antimatter.

    I still wonder whether or not there might exist vast localized deposits of baryonic antimatter, perhaps if not within the visible universe, then just beyond our 13.73 billion year light cone. I know the consideration of such was a pop science consideration a few decades ago but I have not heard much about it over the past two decades as instrumentation has become more precise. Finding one or more antimatter galaxies would be phenomenal

  • george scaglione June 4, 2009, 9:45

    matter/antimatter engines are or rather will be great! but the one “little problem” as usual is figuring out how to build and fly them! i have been watching several episodes of star trek the next generation of late.what i find facinating is,yes,here we have a society in which warp drive is a given. incredible how they then go into what then might be hypotetical for them! in my opinion the next best upcomming space craft propulsion will be fusion. thank you one and all,your friend george

  • Ron S June 4, 2009, 11:01

    I don’t that the focus here is quite right. What we have is a potential source of fuel (energy) in all matter. We lack a suitable ‘oxidant’ to liberate the energy and an engine to convert that energy into propulsion. We tend to focus on anti-matter as that oxidant since that’s a known path that may hold some promise. Unfortunately, anti-matter is in short supply, is exceeding expensive to produce, difficult to handle, and (as Adam points out) it isn’t too easy to exploit, for propulsion, the photons from burning the fuel.

    I suppose we can hope for future revelations in the quantum realm that will allow us to usefully release the energy of matter without needing anti-matter as an intermediary.

  • James M. Essig June 4, 2009, 11:31

    Hi Adam;

    Although I remain hopeful about matter antimatter powered rocket propulsion, I have an allure for beamed energy, since such systems negate the need to carry large quantities of potentially dangerous gamma ray.

    I remember watching a video clip of the Russian Test of the Tsar Bomba 58 megaton nuclear weapon and how its 7 mile diameter fire ball reached virtually all the way down to the ground. I started thinking about the dangers of reacting one kilogram of matter with one kilogram of antimatter after reading your above comments, and I thought, my God, 45 megatons yield in the form of highly ionizing radiation. We need to be very carefull of how we store the stuff.

    One potential way of utilizing the gamma rays produced by matter antimatter reactions is to produce the reactions inside a large thermal mass wherein the gamma ray energy absorbed an converted into thermal energy would be largely extracted to run turbo-electric systems, perhaps H2O steam systems that would then power an efficient laser, microwave, or charged particle beam generator, system such as a highly directed thrust generator.

    As long as the gamma radiation flux density within the thermal mass was commensurate with the thermal mass not vaporizing or melting, such a system might work. One material that might be especially suited for the thermal mass is pure diamond made if possible by nanotech self assembly. Diamond has excellent heat capacity as well as excellent thermal conductivity. Some forms of diamond with optimal isotopic ratio composition, supposedly have better heat conductivity that pure high quality natural diamond.

    Our relatively near term best hope for antimattter sequestration may be mining it from natural sources.

    Still, being that we as of yet can only create about 1 ng of antimatter/year, I can see your interest in beamed propulsion. I have interest in beamed propulsion also and have enjoyed reading and learning from your many comments about it here at Tau Zero.

  • kurt9 June 4, 2009, 13:24

    I think Frank Close is right. I have yet to hear of any method to produce quantities of anti-matter sufficient to propel a space craft. Storage is also an issue. If you have enough anti-matter to power a space craft, you certainly have enough for an explosion if your containment method fails.

  • ljk June 4, 2009, 14:40

    I recall in the 1981 book The Science in Science Fiction that the energy release
    of one kilogram of matter with one kilogram of antimatter (the more proper
    term is mirror matter, by the way) would be equivalent to 43 times the amount
    of energy released by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945,
    to put things in a relative perspective.

    Besides, they’ve already shown in Angels and Demons how the Large Hadron
    Collider created a fair deal of antimatter, which can be kept in a thermos-sized
    container with magnetic fields – just make sure you have fresh batteries ready
    to go before the old one runs out of juice! By the way, a golf ball size amount
    of antimatter looks like a bunch of whispy white filaments that sparkle,
    according to Hollywood.

    At the risk of this sounding like hand-waving, might a very advanced culture
    be able to produce large amounts of antimatter without the economic and
    technological constraints of a Kardashev Type 0.6 civilization like ours?

    There was an article in CD a few years back talking about how relatively
    large amounts of antimatter may be found in the rings of Saturn. Perhaps
    we and other spacefaring societies can and do get their antimatter from
    the rings of Jovian worlds, which we have known since 1977 are common
    around the gas giant planets, or at least ours.

  • Adam June 4, 2009, 19:35

    Hi All

    Larry, It wasn’t the rings, though they might’ve helped generate it, but the magnetosphere that trapped the antimatter present in and made by cosmic-rays. The field is big enough to be a huge trap for lower energy cosmic rays and their collision products, but without the higher levels of regular matter trapped from the Solar Wind like in Jupiter’s magnetosphere. If we can capture the stuff efficiently, then it’ll be a big boost to fission/fusion drives.

    Ron S, currently matter annihilation requires antimatter because of baryon and lepton number, charge and spin conservation. But the Universe is predominantly matter – or so it appears – so there must exist a process that can violate the conservation laws in the right circumstances. Sphaleron fields are one known means for doing so, predicted from the Standard Model of particle physics, but they may require unachieveable conditions. Or they may not. Frank Tipler has speculated that quantum coherence across multiple Universes might allow enough energy to be tunnelled across for sphalerons to form and liberate net energy. Thus developing quantum computers might allow matter annihilation. Tipler thinks the decay products can be controlled – for example, neutrinos instead of photons, which would allow neutrino rockets able to take off from planet surfaces without the catastrophic energy release of multiple megatons.

    Interestingly Olaf Stapledon’s “Last and First Men” and “Starmaker” both featured vehicles propelled by “subatomic reactions” with very mild interactions with their drive exhausts, so much so that the Last Men could wear personal flying suits propelled by them. Whether such can be actualised and used without catastrophic acts of violence caused by deliberately crashing vehicles propelled by them is an open question. One thing interstellar travel allows is rather more mundane opportunities for violence. Even something as ‘natural’ and ‘innocent’ as interstellar solar-sails can accelerate a large mass to extreme speeds within the Earth-Sun distance, thus threatening all the planets if someone had the resources and will to do so.

    Imagine a James Bond scenario where Dr. Phoenix threatened to open up “Death Flowers” in a near-Solar orbit which could accelerate to 0.01c from light-pressure alone. He could hold the world to ransom and Bond would be rather powerless to stop him with ‘Q’s usual range of gadgets. What could he do? What could we do as ‘Tau Zero’ supporters to safe-guard the world/s?

    BTW I believe defence can be implemented but I’ll leave that for y’all to imagine just how.

  • James M. Essig June 4, 2009, 20:38

    Hi ljk;

    The yield of 1 kilogram of antimatter mixed with one kilogram of normal matter would be about 4,000 times as great as the Hiroshima bomb yield.

    Imagine a future when humanity has constucted a huge antimatter supply in the form of a pure antimatter white dwarf with a mass of about 10 EXP 27 metric tons and wherein a normal matter housing for the white dwarf has an equal mass of 10 EXP 27 metric and wherein the final payload has a mass of only 2 x 10 EXP 5 metric tons, the terminal gamma factor of the space craft would be a whopping 5 x 10 EXP 21, astounding indeed.

    Perhaps such extreme craft can be produced in the form of an amtimatter supply and a self consuming extended matter truss so as to reduce the risk of gravitational self collapse.

    However, there are some major caveats in achieving such incredibly high gamma factors as follows: 1) The ability to limit or avoid astrodynamic drive. This may be possible with complete or nearly complete recycling of drag interaction energy and/or perhaps by some sort of electromagnetic energy and matter wave cloaking technology, the latter form of cloaking being very theoretical and unlikely to be realized for a long time to come. ; 2) The ability to adequately shield the craft from extremely energetic incomming radiation in the form of photons, gas, dust, and plasma. Adequate shielding mechanisms would be required and the requesite performance characteristics are not likely to be realized for a long time to come ; 3) The ability to produce and safely store such huge quantities of antimatter in compact forms. In cases of extreme gamma factors, the ability to cancell out the possible extreme G forces experienced by the crew; 4) The ability to collect enough fusion fuel for the case that the space craft would only carry on board its antimatter fuel component given the expansion of the universe and the rarification of interstellar and intergalactic fuel over cosmic time periods; and 5) The ability to adequately shield the craft from, avoid, or deflect, large objects such as interstellar or intergalactic boulders, rocks, comets, asteriods, and the like.

    Given billions of years of human technological development, it is anyones guess as to how far we will progress to overcome these 5 potentially gamma factor limiting problems.

    Antimatter has the potential to work wonders if we can only create it in large quantities.

    When one assumes that only the antimatter portion of the rocket fuel is carried on board, and the matter portion is collected in route, the effective Isp of the onboard rocket fuel is 2C since Isp can also be expressed as the effective momentum delivered to the space craft per unit of fuel.

  • george scaglione June 5, 2009, 9:07

    jim lol you seem to be disagreeing with everybody these days! :) however when we are “rolling in” antimatter boy will that be a great source of spacecraft/starship propulsion!!! however lol let me correct myself! if we are ever “rolling in” antimatter,nobody had better stand too close!!!!!!!!!!!! might cause a bit of an explosion! regards as always to one and all your friend george

  • James M. Essig June 5, 2009, 13:05

    Regarding small but useful quantities of antimatter, another use for small quantities of antimatter as it applies to relativistic rockets is use it to catalyze the fusion of much larger supplies of exotherically fusionable fuels as mentioned above . We could for instance start with hydrogen to produce helium, then fuse helium, and so on all the way up to the most stable isotopal form of Iron.

    The idea is that dense forms of hydrogen, such as hydrogen ice, or perhaps even some theoretical but yet to be realized form of hydrogen metal, would contain molecular cages containing anti-protons. When it was time to fuse a given batch or pellet of hydrogen, the hydrogen’s antiproton containing molecular cages would be ruptured thus permitting the hydrogen nuclei to contact and interact with the antiprotons. The helium produced would be sequestered in the form of helium atoms embeddied in a large volume of material wherein they would be extracted and used for the second stage of fusion reactions involving precursor helium. The process would continue until the most stable form or Iron was achieved.

    The mechanism of fusion products capture might be liquid or solid water, metals, carbon or other absorber of ionizing nucleic reaction products. If the ship was large enough, perhaps compressed air, nitrogen,neon, zenon, helium and the like chemically inert materials could be used to slow the ions.

    Another option is to use magnetic and/or electric field based steering fields and related equipment to trap and slow the ions produced wherein the kinetic energy of the ions would be extracted along with the energy associated with any gamma rays produced in the nuclear fusion reactions to power ship based ion, electron, and/or photon rockets. The process of providing a thermodynamic gradient for which the propulsion system can operate at high efficiency can include a black body radiator located behind a blackbody infra red radiation reflector such as a near perfect IR mirror, which can take the optional form of a rocket cone like shape or other surface contour having a shape factor optimized to direct the IR radiation in as higly collimated exhaust stream as possible for a given radiator shape and surface area temperature distribution.

    With such a system, effective Isp values significantly higher than that which is possible for the single most energetic fusion reaction sequence can be obtained depending on the multistep or multistaged reaction sequence utilized.

    If appropriately dense fusion fuel pellets can be remanufactured out of the pre-ferric isotopes and/or the fuel mixtures be optimized, perhaps a minimum of antiprotons would be required to induce fusion, wherein the rest mass of the anti-protons would be much less than that of the mass equivalence of the energy released in the fusion reaction stages.

  • Brett Bellmore June 7, 2009, 5:55

    I’d simply observe that current means for producing anti-matter are really mechanisms designed to produce scientific papers, with antimatter as a byproduct. Has anybody designed an accelerator specifically for efficient bulk production of antimatter, not for purposes of doing science? It might not bear much resemblance to a scientific paper factory.

  • spaceman June 7, 2009, 6:23

    Be on the look out for the following technology as the twenty-second century approaches: Submillimeter-size microtraps for antimatter storage fabricated by nanotechnology that could in turn be used to ignite fusion in millimeter-size pellets of deuterium fuel, as I think only a very very tiny quantity of antimatter/matter is needed to ignite a nuclear fusion reaction. Great for propulsion, but it would also mean fall-out free atomic bullets….

  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM June 7, 2009, 8:46

    I knew that antimatter production would be a problem (though I think it is a mistake to look at high energy experiment accelerators for the most efficient production technology). I didn’t know that storing would be a matter of scale problem. After all, we can levitate whole trains.

    There are all sorts of magnetic effects to use, dia- and paramagnetism or even superconducting magnetic field repelling. But then we need a (particle leak proof) fusion reactor to convert anti-protons on the fly to, say, anti-lithium (paramagnetic, superconducting at 4 mK). Oh, well.

    “Given billions of years of human technological development,”

    We won’t have that. Typical species lifetime is AFAIU on the order of 10^5 y, and due to our large population size we have amped up the efficiency of natural selection at least two orders of magnitude the last 40 ky. (Ref: John Hawks et al genome studies.) Humans are probably among the fastest evolving populations out there.

    Characteristics will come and go, under natural influence of a likely massive gene set, so we aren’t guaranteed technological provess for longer times. For example, for each ape that have mastered communicative learning (sapiens, floriensis, neanderthal, erectus, habilis) there are corresponding tool cultures where members can only learn by aping ;-) and self modification (pan troglodytes et al). In fact, the former type of tool culture is where the anthropologists uses the “homo” qualification.

    I’m fully prepared for technological cultures that persists on the order of species lifetimes. Why not? If we get hits on SETI that will give us a handle on the statistics of this, by way of Drake equation models.

    But I’m not as optimistic about that the species we will evolve to next is willing or able to continue the torch. There is a, probably, higher likelihood of failure here.

  • ljk June 7, 2009, 11:02

    Why is the Cassini Saturn probe attached to the antimatter sail artwork
    that goes with this article?

  • Administrator June 7, 2009, 13:49

    You’d have to ask Steve Howe where he got the inspiration for the art — I assume he intended a sort of generic probe design.

  • Gregg Weber June 8, 2009, 0:18

    The major factor is the cost of producing, storing, utilizing, and cleaning up any waste of some energy source. It would be best if there was leverage in that the cost of producing the energy was just to pick it up from the ground but that is probably not likely.
    As the cost increases the cost/benefit ratio gets worse.
    Solar sail might have little relative cost but personally I wonder how fast it will go pushing all that interstellar material out of the way. True there is little of it per square meter compared to air down here but moving at such a high speed would not be like driving in the rain, more like driving in golf ball hail.
    How about a forward wall that would absorb whatever was there, heat up a medium to produce steam, electricity for a long mass driver to eject whatever was available. The alternative again is to bounce whatever you hit in some direction and at a great speed, lowering your speed due to “drag”.

    Even the problem of getting into space is a problem in that I wonder about the orbital mechanics of a space elevator in which the top terminal must be reached by some spaceship. I don’t know but it looks like a simular problem as with a blimp trying to attach itself by the nose to a tower when the wind (orbital mechanics) is forcing it to fly by. Even if it attached would it’s mass put too much tention on the strands and would it try to to be in a nose down position, or would there be some form of gravity now present if it’s speed was anything other than normal orbital speed?

  • James M. Essig June 24, 2009, 4:57

    Hi Paul and other Folks;

    After having finished reading my copy of Close’s book, this morning at 4:00 AM under the influence of a 64 Oz of caffienated diet Coke (Grins and Giggles!) I must say that I still have hope that we can produce very large quantities of neutral antimatter perhaps in the form of antihydrogen ice, or perhaps even in the form of ferromagnetic anti-iron materials which could be safely stored in some form of magnetic bottle or magnetic bearing like apparatus.

    If we could deploy in orbit around the Sun, 100 million membranous solar concentrators wherein each solar concentrator has a capture area of 10,000 square meters, at 1AU from the Sun, we would collect about 10 EXP 15 Watts. Each of these concentrators could have a high energy density PV cell that may be as much as 40 or more percent efficient if the claims of researchers in cutting edge PV materials R&D pan out. This could result in say 400 TW of power. In one year, (4 x 10 EXP 14)(3 x 10 EXP 7) Joules of electrical power may be produced or the equivalent of 120 metric toms of matter converted into energy. If antimatter can be produced with 10 percent efficiency, we could produce 12 metric tons per year; at nearly 100 percent efficiency, 120 metric tons per year.

    If 1,000 such stations could be set up, we could generate at 10 percent efficiency, 12,000 metric tons of antimatter per year; at nearly 100 percent efficiency 120,000 metric tons per year.

    Providing we develope a workable system, the antimatter generation infrastructure could be amped up several more orders of magnitude.

    Another caveat is producing very low cost and durable reflectors with current technology and cheap abundant materials.

    My brother John and I have patented inventive material which involves but is not limited to very low cost, high mass specific power output inflatable reflectors, made of durable high modulus reflective membranous materials. We managed to produce reflectors that have a mass specific power output on Earth”s surface of up to 10 kW/kilogram using 0.5 mil metalized mylar or 0.5 mil metalized nylon. The method of manufacture simply involves efficient flat sheet manufacturing patterns using mainly 4, 6, or 8 sheets of thermally bonded, adhesively bonded or otherwise bonded materials. Heck, for our first prototypes, we used a clothes iron to thermally bond Mylar toy balloons cut-outs of various inner and outer radii and were more than able to cook hot dogs to a char even in intermittent sunlight using the devices.

    As thin film materials of greater strength are developed, the mass specific power yield of our reflectors will only increase.

    All that would be required from the reflector material standpoint to collect 10 EXP 15 watts with our technology would be 100 billion kilograms of material or 100 million metric tons; 100 billion metric tons for 1,000 such stations. Perhaps building and deploying such reflectors would be an excellent way to sequesture carbon to manufucture the required carbonacious high strength polymer materials.

    We achieved full stable deployment of our devices which were only about one meter in diameter with a relative Delta Pressure of about 0.1 PSI or less. The larger the device, the less the required relative Delta P.

    Another ceveat is actually launching the stuff. I think the problem is tractable this very centurry if we can get the hardware in orbit at 1 AU. At 0.1 AU, the required mass of the reflective materials drops by 100 fold. However we need low cost and efficient access to low Earth orbit so that we can launch and deploy the systems at 1 AU.

    I think of the meager infrastructure that the New World settlers had here in what would become the U.S. and know we have super highways, 100 story buildings, hundreds of airports, an over 300 ship advanced Navy, dozens of large cities and the list goes on and on.

    I have a gut feeling that we can produce vast quantities of antimatter from the Sun. And we still do not know what the qualities of bulk quantities of antimatter are due to CPT violation in certain particle pair creations. We have not yet determined whether antimatter possesses antigravity according to Close’s book or even “partial antigravatic” effects.



  • J. Cuttance June 26, 2009, 17:47

    If I may throw an idea in – almost certainly thought of before and dimissed for good reason – nevertheless…

    Why, if gamma rays are awkwardly undirectable, can’t the antimatter/matter particles (to be combusted) be propelled back such that their velocity, upon annihilation aft of the spaceship, renders returning gamma rays into a more benign, and reflectable part of the spectrum, ie x-rays/microwaves?

    That way at least some of their energy can be tapped directly for propulsion.



  • Norm Mitchell July 25, 2009, 23:26

    what if I have a light source of say 10,000 deg. kelvin and I pulse this source in a highly reflective container that will amplify the light particals as to density and intensity and direct it thru a lens with a controlable iris that will act as the thrust changing source to go from say an f22 arpeture to a fully open arpeture. The pulsed source rate can also be changed to a very high frequency to jump to near light speed in space. There is no need for chemicals because the pulsed light itself acting as an action reaction source provides the thrust..a magnetic tube keeps the light pulses directed. The power source to operate can be from a number of sources but will only be small for the propulsion system, but will be used for the enviromental systems of the spacecraft. Everyone is trying to make everything to complicated..example (a LED) but how long was it before we replaced the regular old light bulb, or built a simple rocket engine. Physics does not change just our thinking so slow down and look around.

  • ljk September 17, 2009, 9:31

    The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius

    by Graham Farmelo

    ISBN-10: 0571222781
    ISBN-13: 978-0571222780

    “Studying the Strangest Man”

    by Lee Billings

    September 15, 2009


    For more than five years, former physicist Graham Farmelo devoted himself to unlocking the secrets of one of the most important and curious figures of 20th century science, Paul Dirac. He was born in 1902 and died in 1984, and though lionized by his peers for his fundamental work in quantum mechanics (among other things, he predicted the existence of antimatter and won a Nobel Prize when he was only 31), Dirac’s legacy has fared poorly among the general public.

    During his research, Farmelo found that most residents of the “famous” physicist’s hometown of Bristol didn’t even know who Dirac was. Unquestionably, this is due to Dirac’s reclusive and taciturn behavior; his social quiescence was so extreme that it inspired his fellow physicists to invent an unofficial unit of measure for the minimal number of words a person could speak in polite company: a “Dirac,” roughly one utterance per hour.

    But as Farmelo delved deeper into Dirac’s life for his new biography, The Strangest Man, he discovered surprising complexity and contradiction that gives new appreciation to the physicist’s character: Despite what many perceived as a lack of empathy, Dirac married, raised children, and forged several close lifelong friendships.

    Despite his professed distaste for unscientific reasoning, in his later life he became increasingly obsessed with philosophical, even religious, questions. And despite his love for the rarefied subject of theoretical physics, Dirac also had a passion for “lowbrow” cartoons and comic books.

    Farmelo spoke with Seed’s Lee Billings about the process of researching the book and his astonishing hypothesis that could explain, once and for all, Dirac’s enigmatic behavior.

    Full interview here:


  • Lethurin October 2, 2009, 21:32

    In the future, for production of this stuff to succeed, it would have to be manufactured and contained in outer space. Imagine an antimatter “factory” orbiting the Moon, where “ships” from earth dock, fuel up, and blast off to Mars or one or Saturn’s moons.
    I’d say…another fifty years, and maybe technological advances will expand into other sectors, and things we can’t dream of now will likely be available.

  • Christopher Neill 10th grade Hampton High School, Virginia November 9, 2009, 13:54

    Is It True? Where’s The Proof?

    Scientists today keep talking about how certain things aren’t “possible,” but who are they to decide what is or isn’t possible? Everything they say is “proven” is based on theories that someone in ancient times came up with. Are we that ignorant that we can’t come up with our own theories, that we have to follow some dead guy’s thoughts? People used to think the Earth was flat, but what happened? Columbus happened. We also believed in the geocentric view of the universe (Geocentric: Sun and planets revolve around earth), and what happened? Copernicus and Galileo proved them wrong! Scientists can’t make up their minds! Pretty soon they’re gonna think we are actually related to fish! So who is anyone to say what is and isn’t possible? For all they know, dragons and pixies are the reason little kids go missing!
    Think about this: 0% of scientists are actually proven right. All of their “discoveries” are based on theory. Take 2012 for example. They think that just because certain mayan calenders end on that specific day, the world will end. We’ve gone over 2000 years without these problems, why now? The only way I think the world would end is this war we’re going through. Most people in this world (mainly our leaders, go figure) are stupid enough to think that violence solves everything: nuclear warheads, terrorists, suicide bombers, smart bombs, the works. We make these things to make us feel safe, when all we do is make other people scared. Then they build up their “defenses” and scare us, and eventually someone “accidentally” presses the big red button and causes world war three. That’s stupid, just because someone called you fat. Quit whining, tubby.
    We believe everything we’re told because we don’t want to be scared, but the truth that we’ve all been running away from is this: No one really knows the truth, only false hopes, dreams, and theories. The only things that are true are the things you make true and the piece of paper you’re staring at right now, thinking, “Maybe this guy’s right.” Anything can happen, at any time, and there’s no way you can stop it. Just ride the current and hope it takes you somewhere nice.

    Written by a student a Hampton High School of class 2012

  • Peter Atwood November 16, 2009, 17:27

    Perhaps storage is the dead end. Right next to this article I saw a paper on production of Anti-electrons by the use of lasers on Gold. Perhaps storage is unnecessary if more research is focused (Pun) on this area. If positrons can be produced and combined with Electrons outside the spacecraft (Shielded say by an 11 foot thick Orion Pusher plate) then you would get thrust as well as shielding without additional weight penalty. The Orion thrust bombs would only be used as an in-system drive. Problem, the beam from the drive would be lethal for AU’s behind you.

  • Christopher Neill November 23, 2009, 13:37

    I am a tenth grade student at hampton high school in virginia, and I see a few kinks in this project.
    For one, the amount of antimatter you would have to gather up would be quite a bit, considering even antimatter becomes stable after a while. Then comes the means to procure it.
    Plus, there comes the means to contain it. If these engines work by antimatter reacting with regular matter, then you can’t just put the fuel in just any container, the antimatter would just cause problems. you would have to create a container of “neutral” matter; one that doesn’t react with antimatter or regular matter. this way, the container will hold the matter without fail.
    There is also the fact that NASA feels that they have to rush a project, so things sometimes get done half way, and that causes problems. Don’t rush the project, and it will go fine.

  • Administrator November 23, 2009, 14:08

    Christopher Neill writes:

    If these engines work by antimatter reacting with regular matter, then you can’t just put the fuel in just any container, the antimatter would just cause problems. you would have to create a container of “neutral” matter; one that doesn’t react with antimatter or regular matter. this way, the container will hold the matter without fail.

    What’s done with antimatter today is to use magnetic traps that keep the antimatter suspended and thus unable to come into contact with regular matter. The problem comes as the amount of antimatter goes up — we have no way to contain large amounts of antimatter even if we had it at this point.

  • Christopher Neill November 24, 2009, 15:10

    Exactly my point. For this to work, you need a large amount of antimatter, and that would mean, if what you say is the only thing you’ve come up with, larger fuel containers, and a large fuel container would become very cumbersome and actually slow the craft down.
    Plus, we, as humans, have a habit of overlooking things. All it takes is one miscalculation, one broken piece, and the whole project would collapse. If I, a fifteen year old boy, can see these problems, why can’t NASA?

  • John December 28, 2009, 14:09

    Thanks for all the interesting reading folks. You all have forgotten 1 important thing in all of this science.


    Once we have found a number of worlds that we can live on, you will see the world change. Humanity will now be concerned with 1 single purpose and that will be who will colonize and claim new earth. History repeats itself, and much like the colonization of the New Worlds of North and South America we will all be united in reaching the stars. I think we are all simply bored and need a challenge, idle hands and all…

  • Christopher Neill January 20, 2010, 9:13

    Yeah, that’s true, but you’re also forgetting something John. We seem to think that we, as in human beings, think that there is nothing smarter than us in this universe, that we have the right to take over whatever land we want, be it an island or another planet. Most likely, if we find another inhabitable planet, it’s probably already inhabited. If we take over someone else’s land or planet, then we’re no better than the extraterrestrials in the oh so famous alien movies. If we don’t like the idea of being invaded by aliens, why should we invade them?

  • J. Cuttance March 13, 2010, 21:41

    How much up the anti-matter periodic table do we have to go to get to something containable? Would some isotope of anti-lithium have good enough magnetic properties to be made to behave?

  • Dylan V. March 26, 2010, 8:46

    Yes, there are two main constrains with antimatter rockets; the production and the storage of antimatter particles. But if we were to solve the issue of production, couldn’t the antimatter be produced on the ship and used as more is produced, eliminating the storage problem? Also, about production: when the particles in the sun’s core undergoes nuclear fusion, a positron is produced. Couldn’t this method be used to produce antimatter fuel on the ship, in addition to adding some extra nuclear-powered acceleration?

  • atomicsteve111 April 14, 2010, 21:38

    Would it not be possible to create a stable containment for antimatter by creating multiple neutron beams that could form a seperation grid? How about bombarding Be material with Po 210 as a neutron source? Maybe enough neutrons could be created to ovecome their decay rate.
    The neutrons could be pushed along the grid so only neutrons not in danger of becoming protons through decay ( neutrons are only stable when in an atom) would encounter the antimatter

  • Angel Celis May 22, 2010, 20:50

    Hola, soy de Perú no se mucho ingles asi que escribiré en castellano
    Créo que el problema sea el combustible, la antimateria es una buena solución si sería el caso, lo que quiero decir es que la respuesta a los viajes está en la masa y la energia. Es mi primer comentario, espero me disculpen por no ayudar en el tema, estoy trabajando en un concepto diferente para los viajes en el universo, teniendo en cuenta las cuatro dimensiones de einstein en donde el tiempo es un valor relativo positivo ya como sabrán no avanza hacia atras sino hacia adelante y la mejor idea sería jalar la masa sin avanzar el tiempo para poder llegar a otro punto sin incrementar la velocidad es decir estático, cuando desarrolle mejor esta idea las haré llegar. Gracias por su atención.