The dream of interstellar travel could be closer than we think, or at least, that’s the claim of physicists Gerald Jackson and Steven Howe, who have been working on an antimatter propulsion system for over a decade now, as reported by Forbes.
Their proposal is for an antimatter-driven sail that could deliver a 10-kilogram (22-pound) probe to the next closest star system, Alpha Centauri, in just 40 years using 17 grams (0.6 ounces) of antihydrogen. The large 100-kilogram (220 pounds) sail would be five meters (16 feet) in diameter, made of carbon, and coated with depleted uranium.
Propulsion would be driven by antimatter stored by the probe. When the antihydrogen hits the sail, the uranium atoms undergo fission. The main product of this fission is two similar sized atoms with high and opposite speeds. One will hit the sail, propelling it forward, and the other will be lost in space. Via this method, the researchers say the probe could reach speeds up to 10 percent the speed of light, reaching the edge of the Solar System in just 10 years.
One of the main issues that need to be addressed, though, is how to store the antimatter. Antimatter is a mirror version of normal matter, which we are made of. Antimatter particles, like the positron and the antiproton, have the same mass of their ordinary matter counterparts but have an opposite charge. When matter and antimatter come into contact they annihilate, turning into pure energy. It is still not clear why the universe is made of matter instead of antimatter.
The idea was first proposed in 2003, at the Particle Accelerator Conference, but it was not pursued due to lack of funding. So, Jackson and Howe, via their company Hbar Technologies, are planning to launch a Kickstarter campaign next month that would allow them to construct a proof-of-concept design and a device to measure the thrust of such system. They hope to raise $200,000, which will provide funding for the next phase of the research.
“Crowdfunding may be a good way to show interest in the project when it comes time to find bigger investors or governmental support,” Jackson told Forbes.
“We will then need funding on the order of $100 million to actually build small prototype propulsion and power systems.”