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Assessing Potential Propulsion BreakthroughsThe term, propulsion breakthrough, refers to concepts like propellantless space drives and faster-than-light travel, the kind of breakthroughs that would make interstellar exploration practical. Although no such breakthroughs appear imminent, a variety of investigations into these goals have begun. From 1996 to 2002, NASA supported the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project to examine physics in the context of breakthrough spaceflight. Three facets of these assessments are now reported: (1) predicting benefits, (2) selecting research, and (3) recent technical progress. Predicting benefits is challenging since the breakthroughs are still only notional concepts, but kinetic energy can serve as a basis for comparison. In terms of kinetic energy, a hypothetical space drive could require many orders of magnitude less energy than a rocket for journeys to our nearest neighboring star. Assessing research options is challenging when the goals are beyond known physics and when the implications of success are profound. To mitigate the challenges, a selection process is described where: (a) research tasks are constrained to only address the immediate unknowns, curious effects or critical issues, (b) reliability of assertions is more important than their implications, and (c) reviewers judge credibility rather than feasibility. The recent findings of a number of tasks, some selected using this process, are discussed. Of the 14 tasks included, six reached null conclusions, four remain unresolved, and four have opportunities for sequels. A dominant theme with the sequels is research about the properties of space, inertial frames, and the quantum vacuum.
Document ID
20060000022
Document Type
Technical Memorandum (TM)
Authors
Millis, Marc G. (NASA Glenn Research Center Cleveland, OH, United States)
Date Acquired
September 7, 2013
Publication Date
December 1, 2005
Subject Category
Spacecraft Propulsion and Power
Report/Patent Number
NASA/TM-2005-213998
E-15322
Meeting Information
New Trends in Astrodynamics and Applications 2: An International Conference(Princeton, NJ)
Funding Number(s)
WBS: WBS 22-066-10-10
Distribution Limits
Public
Copyright
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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