It may sound like science fiction, but scientists might have found a way to get us to Mars quicker than your morning commute.
Researchers at NASA are developing a theoretical laser-based propulsion system, which it’s hoped will eliminate the need for fuel and could accelerate spacecraft up to 26 per cent of the speed of light – that’s a blistering 167,750,000 mph, Science.Mic reports.
At that pace a small probe could get to Mars in just 30 minutes, and in 15 years it could make the perilous four light year long journey to Alpha Centauri, our nearest star, in just 15 years.
Eventually though, the plan would be to build a scaled up version of the system which would be capable of getting a full-sized, 100-kilogram spacecraft to Mars in just a few days.
For the sake of comparison, with our current technology it would take around four to eight months to get to Mars. Meanwhile it took the Voyager 1 deep space probe an incredible 35 years to reach the edge of our solar system, as it’s only travelling at about 0.006% of the speed of light.
Philip Lubin, a cosmologist at the University of California claims that building the laser propulsion system is very doable, even now, adding: “There is no known reason why we cannot do this.”
Unfortunately there are issues concerning the scale of the device. Right now we have laser amplifiers about the size of a textbook, but Lubin believes you’d need a six-square-mile array of lasers and amplifiers floating out in Earth’s orbit to be powerful enough to beam even a gram-sized spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in 15 years.
Luckily the tech is easily scalable so you could always build a bigger system.
The bad news is it doesn’t solve another pretty big problem, which is stopping when you get to where you want to go – scientists have no idea how you’d actually begin to slow down… so maybe the idea needs a bit more work.