Can Star Trek spaceships be real?

No matter how much experts argued that a manned flight to the neighboring planets in the near future is hardly possible, we still find it difficult to give up the dream of space exploration. Recently, the site BuildTheEnterprise dedicated to the creation of the ship "Enterprise" from the popular TV series "Star Trek" on the basis of existing technologies has emerged.

An engineer who preferred to stay anonymous believes that the current level of science and technology development allows to construct a design quite similar to that of the "Enterprise NX-01" - the famous spaceship from the TV series "Star Trek", equipped with ion engines and nuclear reactor capacity of 1.5 gigawatts.

According to his calculations, such a spacecraft is capable of reaching Mars in three months. However, the gigantic ship nearly a kilometer long will have to be assembled in the Earth orbit.

It is realistic to create artificial gravity on board the ship.  The ship in the sci-fi movie had a master drive with a double hull, whose inner hull floated on a magnetic cushion and spun on its axis, creating gravity similar to that of the Earth in the outer regions of the disk.

The theory is very simple, but is its practical implementation realistic? Journalists asked experts from NASA for comments. The answers were not simple.

"It is a cool idea, but not very practical one, too optimistic in assessing the developments in the near future," said John Elliott, head of the department of engineering systems of NASA Outer Planet Flagship Mission designed to send aircraft to the satellites of Saturn and Jupiter. "But if it makes people think in unconventional ways and offer original solutions, it is not so bad."

If we consider the project in detail, the problems, according to Elliott, begin with a nuclear reactor. "Reactors are scalable to much higher capacities, but screening from the system of radiation and heat (in space) would be quite a challenge," he said.

Indeed, nearly all projects with the ship's nuclear reactor require placement of on-board nuclear power plant in an isolated compartment that should be located as far from the living compartment as possible. As a rule, fuel for ion engines for extra protection is placed between the reactor and the living compartment.

The second problem is related to the ion engines. Even today, they are capable of revving the ship up to 320,000 kilometers per hour. Unfortunately, these engines are weak (50-100 MHz), which makes the process of acceleration too long. Therefore, a three-month flight to Mars would require a large number of engines equipped with a complex power system.

Incidentally, NASA is developing "Prometheus" project aimed at building a ship with ion engines that receives power from a nuclear reactor. However, it had to support only 250 kilowatts of power.

Gravity is not that easy to maintain either. According to the staff at Stanford University (USA), Nicholas Lee engaged in the development of satellite systems, centrifugal rotation of one part of the ship will move it to the straight path. "It is the same as taking an external hard drive and waving it in the air while it is actively working," he explained. However, the authors of the project BuildTheEnterprise see the solution to the problem in the installation of a counterweight disk with similar rotation parameters, but with the opposite vector to balance the curvature of the trajectory. Maybe so, but in this case the structure becomes very complicated.

Finally, a complex form characteristic, for example, for the ISS, is not suitable for large ships intended for heavy movement. The best option for them, experts say, is a sphere or a set of functional modules in the form of spheres. Otherwise, the mass of the apparatus is too large.

In addition, the construction of an analog of the "Enterprise" in the Earth orbit, according to scientists' calculations, will require 650 flights of the Space Launch System currently available to NASA. It is not capable of placing more than 130 tons of cargo in orbit at a time.

Still, most experts recognize that such ideas, even though they cannot be implemented now, often lead to valuable innovations in other areas.

Irina Shlionskaya


Read the original in Russian 

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov