If you've been following the space and "new energy technology" stories lately, you'll have noticed that what was once a steady drip is now becoming more like a steady trickle, as this article shared by Mr. J.H. attests. But, if you read closely, there's a couple of caveats one might want to think about here:
Now, if you're reading closely, you'll have caught a problem inherent in the technology as the story is reporting it:
Testing has started at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, on a concept for a potentially revolutionary propulsion system that could send spacecraft to the edge of our solar system, the heliopause, faster than ever before.
The test results will provide modeling data for the Heliopause Electrostatic Rapid Transit System (HERTS). The proposed HERTS E-Sail concept, a propellant-less propulsion system, would harness solar wind to travel into interstellar space.
"The sun releases protons and electrons into the solar wind at very high speeds - 400 to 750 kilometers per second," said Bruce Wiegmann an engineer in Marshall's Advanced Concepts Office and the principal investigator for the HERTS E-Sail. "The E-Sail would use these protons to propel the spacecraft."
Extending outward from the center of the spacecraft, 10 to 20 electrically charged, bare aluminum wires would produce a large, circular E-Sail that would electrostatically repel the fast moving protons of the solar wind. The momentum exchange produced as the protons are repelled by the positively charged wires would create the spacecraft's thrust.
Toward then end of the article, there is a bit more information about the basic concept:
Steering can be accomplished by modulating the wire's voltage individually as the spacecraft rotates. Affecting a difference in force applied on different portions of the E-Sail, would give engineers the ability to steer the spacecraft, similar to the sails of a boat.
As the article also points out, this technology is still in proof-of-concept testing phase, which should be completed in approximately two years. As a technology, however, it is both simple, relatively cheap, and would provide - if successful - the means for propelling space probes of possibly very large size, sizes currently impractical to launch from Earth with chemical rockets. One might be able to assemble very large probes from various components in space, and then, utilizing this concept, propell them outward in the solar system using the Sun's own "wind" to sail on the ocean of the solar system.
And that's the rub: for such a technology would be best utilized for a "one way trip", though with modifications of the electrial potential on the "sail' it might be feasible even to envision it for a "return trip": outbound: positive potential, inbound: negative potential. Maybe. Assuming, again, of course, that the technology is actually feasible, for there are a great deal of ifs, ands, and buts to be considered and tested.
THere's another, more disturbing implication here, one that "electric universe" theorists will perhaps easily appreciate: the creation of enormous charge differentials on the "e-sail" would, effectively, create a huge electrical circuit in space from the Sun to the craft. Any local celestial bodies in close proximity to the craft with a relatively different potential might - just possibly might - attract that charge from the sail to the body, much like the local charge differences between the atmosphere and the Earth produce the electrical arcing currents that we know as lightning. Testing will have to perhaps find ways to eliminate (or worse, control) such a phenomenon, if it is even possible.
But assume, for a moment, amidst all this wild and woolly high octane speculation, that this is possible. If so, then what one might be looking at here is a technology that could do double duty, both as a propulsion system, and if need be and under certain local celestrial conditions, as a kind of "lightning weapon" recalling the thunderbolts of the ancient gods. It would be precisely the type of "harmless" technology that one would develop if one were intending to cloak militarization motivations, or to avoid, perhaps, some ancient and forgotten "Cosmic Treaty of Versailles."
See you on the flip side...