Leaving on a plasma plane
Future Workshop Electrofluidsystems TU Berlin
Plasma jet engines were initially the fanfare of science fiction, and in theory quite practical. In the weightless and vacuum of space, it could propel astronauts to Mars in a little over a month, as in the case of the VASIMR project by NASA.
The caveat to this is that electrical plants are in and of themselves massive affairs, and typically not flight worthy or aerodynamic.
This will require thought, creativity, engineering miniaturization (likely exploiting nanotechnology designs yet dreamed or drafted) and above all: national will. It would be thrilling to work on such a project and bring such devices into existence. The roar of jet engines at airports and service shows could be reduced (in my imagination) to a hum and a distant memory. This could be the beginning of shuttle designs for ascending to orbital space stations or decent from mother ships on distant worlds.
Sadly, since traditional jet engines use fossil fuels, I can foresee armies of lobbyists and current industries invested in keeping the status quo allied against this endeavor.
As the oft stated colloquialism goes: "This is why we can't have nice things."
FORGET fuel-powered jet engines. We’re on the verge of having aircraft that can fly from the ground up to the edge of space using air and electricity alone.
Traditional jet engines create thrust by mixing compressed air with fuel and igniting it. The burning mixture expands rapidly and is blasted out of the back of the engine, pushing it forwards.
Instead of fuel, plasma jet engines use electricity to generate electromagnetic fields. These compress and excite a gas, such as air or argon, into a plasma – a hot, dense ionised state similar to that inside a fusion reactor or star.
Plasma engines have been stuck in the lab for the past decade or so. And research on them has largely been limited to the idea of propelling satellites once in space.
Berkant Göksel at the Technical University of Berlin and his team now want to fit plasma engines to planes. “We want to develop a system that can operate above an altitude of 30 kilometres where standard jet engines cannot go,” he says. These could even take passengers to the edge of the atmosphere and beyond.
The challenge was to develop an air-breathing plasma propulsion engine that could be used for take-off as well as high-altitude flying.
Plasma jet engines that could take you from the ground to space
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