STAR TREK LIKE AIRCRAFT USES SOLID STATE PROPULSION
Scientist at MIT – Massachusetts Institute of Technology have managed to come with novel and revolutionary Star Trek like aircraft propulsion. The researchers at MIT have developed what best could be described at Star Trek like ion propulsion for small aircraft that uses latterly no fuel to propel the aircraft through the air.
The aircraft was tested in the MIT Gym and the research was published in the Nature, under title Flight of an aeroplane using solid state propulsion. The significance of MIT finding might not be apparent to many but research and findings could lead to revolutionary steps in aerospace design and propulsion.
Literally we are talking Star Trek concepts and designs, with ideas at this junction are pure science fiction. If I could draw the parallels on this discovery, Kitty Hawk or the Wright Flyer would come to mind, and this might sound hyperbolic to some, but the significance couldn’t be underestimated.
Since the first aeroplane flight, aircraft were propelled by a simple concept of moving surfaces and some form of propeller or a turbine. Although, currently it is the best form of getting from A to B, this method of propulsion was around for nearly 110 years. However, no matter how much we improve the propeller turbines or jet engines, they’re still relatively inefficient and cumbersome, often creating additional drag on aircraft it propels. The fact these engines also require fossil fuel, adds additional complexity to entire concept and fallibility of the current aircraft designs.
Solid State Aircraft Propulsion, changes these dynamics significantly, however before you jump for joy, it is early days and currently this technology can only apply to tiny aircraft, less than 500g. What makes this concept so fascinating is the way MIT engineers managed to achieve stable Electrodynamics concept, propulsion using electrical forces to accelerate ions in a fluid.
Solid State Aircraft Propulsion has been proposed as an alternative method of propelling aeroplanes—without moving parts, nearly silently and without combustion emissions, the thought of that is simply mindboggling and very Star Trekish. As a massive Trekie, and fan of most things sci-fi SSAP concept just takes me to that universe. Do I think this is the technology that could one day when scaled up, be utilized for propulsion of all aircraft, I certainly hope so.
The MIT team in their tests from 2016 to 2018 created an aircraft with a wingspan of 5 meters that weighed 2.45 kilograms. It has a number of thin electrodes running across its wings, and at the front of these are thin wires, while at the back is an aerofoil – a curved surface to produce the lift, like on a regular plane wing. The thin wires at the front are charged to positive 20,000 volts, while the aerofoil at the back is charged to negative 20,000 volts, creating a strong electric field. At the front, electrons are removed from nitrogen molecules in the air to produce ions. And as these accelerate to the back, they produce an ionic wind, which gives the plane thrust.
The basic idea is that if you ionize air, which means removing an electron from it, you can accelerate the air with an electric field. Over the course of 10 test flights, the plane successful flew about 60 meters (200 feet) in about 12 seconds with a thrust efficiency of about 2.6 percent. But as the speed increases, the efficiency of the system increases, just like in a regular plane. Theoretically just over 1,000 kilometres per hour, faster than a passenger jet, and it is 50 percent efficient.
The technique is similar to how ion engines are used in some spacecraft to travel through space. However, those spacecraft rely on ionizing a fuel – such as xenon gas – to produce thrust. The plane developed by the MIT team does not require propellant, instead relying only on the thin wires and an off the shelf lithium-polymer battery.
At the moment the technology is limited, with the plane being very much a prototype. But the future possibilities are exciting. In the near-term, this thrust system could be used to power small drones, making them near-silent as they wouldn’t have any propellers like regular drones. Tests on the plane are continuing, with the team now able to turn the plane in the air with a remote control rather than just flying in a straight line.
At the moment the technology is limited, with the plane being very much a prototype. But the future possibilities are significant. However, don’t expect large commercial airplanes using this technology being available any time soon, we’re talking perhaps another 50 or even 100 years of development before that will be possible, however it is nice to dream of such future.