New and Improved Antimatter Spaceship for Mars Missions

By | June 5, 2006

New and Improved Antimatter Spaceship for Mars Missions

Most self-respecting starships in science fiction stories use antimatter as fuel for a good reason ? it?s the most potent fuel known. While tons of chemical fuel are needed to propel a human mission to Mars, just tens of milligrams of antimatter will do (a milligram is about one-thousandth the weight of a piece of the original M&M candy).

…When antimatter meets matter, both annihilate in a flash of energy. This complete conversion to energy is what makes antimatter so powerful. Even the nuclear reactions that power atomic bombs come in a distant second, with only about three percent of their mass converted to energy. …

However, in reality this power comes with a price. Some antimatter reactions produce blasts of high energy gamma rays. Gamma rays are like X-rays on steroids. They penetrate matter and break apart molecules in cells, so they are not healthy to be around. High-energy gamma rays can also make the engines radioactive by fragmenting atoms of the engine material.

The NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) is funding a team of researchers working on a new design for an antimatter-powered spaceship that avoids this nasty side effect by producing gamma rays with much lower energy.

… “A rough estimate to produce the 10 milligrams of positrons needed for a human Mars mission is about 250 million dollars using technology that is currently under development.”

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