Skip to main content

The tech we need for Deep Space exploration

SEP engine

SEP engines slash use of chemical propellants by 90%. Image credit: Nasa

Next-gen journeys and deep-space robotic missions out of the solar system will require next-gen engines, but vague and unproven concepts like the perpetual motion machine, zero-point energy and cold fusion engines won't get us very far. Cue solar electric rockets, the most efficient and cost-effective form of propulsion discovered so far. Nasa's Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) project uses just a tenth of the chemical propellants traditionally used by spacecraft. It has two versions of radiation-proof fold-out or 'flexible blanket' solar panels, and wants them tested in a low-Earth orbit by 2020.

Not enough? You wanted a WARP drive capable of light speed? Tough – Nasa calls it 'simply imaginary', although there is currently some chat about the physics-defying EM Drive, which uses a cavity filled with resonating microwaves to create propulsion without emissions. If it can get us to our neighbouring Alpha Centauri star system 4.3 lights years distant – some suggest it could – who cares it breaks the basic law of conservation of momentum?

Jamie Carter

Jamie is a freelance tech, travel and space journalist based in the UK. He’s been writing regularly for Techradar since it was launched in 2008 and also writes regularly for Forbes, The Telegraph, the South China Morning Post, Sky & Telescope and the Sky At Night magazine as well as other Future titles T3, Digital Camera World, All About Space and Space.com. He also edits two of his own websites, TravGear.com and WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com that reflect his obsession with travel gear and solar eclipse travel. He is the author of A Stargazing Program For Beginners (Springer, 2015),