The same electromagnetic radiation used to heat up your leftovers for lunch could propel a shuttle into space.
Escape Dynamics, a Colorado-based aerospace technology company, says they’ve successfully tested a spacecraft engine that, rather than being loaded with expensive fuel, would launch into the stratosphere on a wave of microwave energy.
Here’s the concept: The microwaves heat the craft, which heats the hydrogen, which reaches an explosive point where it can fire out the back of the ship and thrust the craft into the air until it reaches its destination.
This energy comes from the electric grid, which is converted into microwaves using a system of beam shaping mirrors. The plane carries a much lighter fuel tank filled with hydrogen, which is heated up by microwaves sent from Earth to the spacecraft’s external microwave-absorbing heat exchanger, capable of capturing more than 90% of incoming energy. The hydrogen heats up in the tank and eventually bursts out of a nozzle system in the shuttle to create thrust.
If this system actually worked, it would be revolutionary for all things space.
Currently, our conventional rockets are packed with a ridiculous amount of combustible fuel to propel shuttles into space. This fuel is heavy and makes up a bulk of the rocket’s initial mass, which also makes it super expensive to launch satellites into space. Plus, there’s always a risk when you strap a human into a rocket that relies on powerful chemical combustion.
An electromagnetic radiation system would shed the weight and safety risks associated with explosive rocket fuel and could drastically reduce costs to send satellites and humans into space.
Obviously we won’t be sending microwave-powered space-planes to run missions to the International Space Station just yet. Engineers need to make sure it’s possible to build a microwave antenna array powerful enough to push the craft into space. They’d also need to ensure the microwaves stay on target and see if it’s even safe to fire microwaves into space.
Still, it’s an exciting idea, and if it all comes together, the system could transform the way we send people and cargo into space.
How long do you think it will be until we make the switch from rocket fuel to microwaves?