Antimatter and the Sail

October 17, 2016

An antimatter probe to a nearby star? The idea holds enormous appeal, given the colossal energies obtained when normal matter annihilates in contact with its antimatter equivalent. But as we’ve seen through the years on Centauri Dreams, such energies are all but impossible to engineer. Antimatter production is infinitesimal, the by-product of accelerators designed with […]

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Antimatter Acquisition: Harvesting in Space

August 3, 2016

Talking about antimatter, as we’ve done in the past two posts, leads to the question of why the stuff is so hard to find. When we make it on Earth, we do so by smashing protons into targets inside particle accelerators of the kind found at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, IL and […]

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Antimatter Propulsion: Birth of a Concept

August 1, 2016

I spent this past weekend poking into antimatter propulsion concepts and in particular looking back at how the idea developed. Two scientists — Les Shepherd and Eugen Sänger — immediately came to mind. I don’t know when Sänger, an Austrian rocket designer who did most of his work in Germany, conceived the idea he would […]

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Toward a Beamed Core Drive

May 22, 2012

If you didn’t see this morning’s spectacular launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9, be sure to check out the video (and it would be a good day to follow @elonmusk on Twitter, too). As we open the era of private launches to resupply the International Space Station, it’s humbling to contrast how exhilarating this morning […]

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Antimatter: The Production Problem

May 21, 2012

Antimatter is so tantalizing a prospect for propulsion that every time a new slant on using it appears, I try to figure out its implications for long-haul missions. But the news, however interesting, is inevitably balanced by the reality of production problems. There’s no question that antimatter is potent stuff, with the potential for dealing […]

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Antimatter: Finding the Fuel

May 17, 2012

In Stephen Baxter’s wonderful novel Ark (Roc, 2010), a team of scientists works desperately to come up with an interstellar spacecraft while epic floods threaten the Earth. The backdrop gives Baxter the chance to work through many of our current ideas about propulsion, from starships riding a wave of nuclear explosions (Orion) to antimatter possibilities […]

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Re-Thinking The Antimatter Rocket

April 2, 2012

Once when reading Boswell’s monumental life of the 18th Century writer and conversationalist Samuel Johnson, I commented to a friend how surprised I had been to discover that Johnson didn’t spend much time reading in his later years. “He didn’t need a lot of time,” replied my friend, a classics professor. “He tore the heart […]

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Thoughts on Antihydrogen and Propulsion

March 14, 2012

Normally when we talk about interstellar sail concepts, we’re looking at some kind of microwave or laser beaming technologies of the kind Robert Forward wrote about, in which the sail is driven by a beam produced by an installation in the Solar System. Greg and Jim Benford have carried out sail experiments in the laboratory […]

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Antimatter Source Near the Earth

August 10, 2011

Now that NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) is back in business, I’m reminded that it was through NIAC studies that both Gerald Jackson and James Bickford introduced the possibility of harvesting antimatter rather than producing it in huge particle accelerators. The idea resonates at a time when the worldwide output of antimatter is measured […]

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Antimatter: The Conundrum of Storage

March 11, 2011

Are we ever going to use antimatter to drive a starship? The question is tantalizing because while chemical reactions liberate about one part in a billion of the energy trapped inside matter — and even nuclear reactions spring only about one percent of that energy free — antimatter promises to release what Frank Close calls […]

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