New era in space travel begins: Plasma jet engine breakthrough!
When it comes to plasma, the word alone invokes thoughts of sci-fi weaponry and space ships shooting out giant balls made of light and energy. What many do not know, however, is that plasma is actually a fourth state of matter alongside liquid, solid, and gas.
The term plasma comes from the Greek word from jelly and is interpreted as a moldable gas. What separates plasma from the previous states of matter, however, is that it never occurs naturally on the surface of the Earth, and must be created artificially by humans using various means of harnessing the plasma.
The Plasma Engine, No Longer Sci-Fi?
While the process behind making plasma is enough for an article of its own, it is important to note that plasma is created by taking the electrons out of natural gas in a closed environment to create a reaction, like a neon tube sign. This is a very violate state of matter that is constantly trying to escape and dissipate into the atmosphere, so containment is necessary for some vacuum.
Now there has been a major breakthrough by a team from the Technical University of Berlin lead by Professor Berkant Goskel on a study into making plasma engines, and breakthrough that could change jet propulsion technology as we know it and revolutionize the aerospace industry overnight by creating an engine that runs solely off of air and electricity alone.
What makes these engines unique, is that unlike the normal large jet engine, the plasma genuine would be a series of smaller engines in an array made up of anywhere from 100 to 10,000 of these mini thrusters. The ramifications of an engine that runs purely on air and electricity are obvious and astounding; jet fuel would be a thing of the past and getting to the edge of space would require nothing but a constant supply of air and electricity.
For now, Berkant claims that the first generation of these engines will take aircraft to altitudes of 30 miles (or 50km) with the future being seemingly unlimited. Furthermore, Berkant states that the plasma jets will be able to be used at ground level as well to traverse speeds of up to 20 kilometers a second, something that would liquefy a person until we figure out how to handle the intense amount of g-force traveling at speed like that would create.
A normal jet engine burns fuel and compressed air, with the resulting pressure being forced out of the back of the engine create forward propulsion, a very simple concept that was mastered decades ago. The plasma engine, however, uses much more complicated technically in which it mimics the way a star or fusion reactor creates power.
By turning natural gas into plasma, then create an electromagnetic field around it electricity then is feed into the field, and forward thrust is created, that multiplied by up to 10,000 additional thrusters generating force is what will propel newly created aircraft through the sky if this engine is a success. Creating a public transport jet powered by these new plasma thrusters is exactly what Professor Berkant wishes to do.
There are, however, several problems that need to be overcome before the plasma jet engine will become a reality. First of all is the aforementioned issue where a full sized jetliner will be required to have about 10,000 of these thrusters to safely propel one through the sky which means that the size must be reduced, at the current size however they could use a thousand thrusters to power a smaller sized aircraft such as a private jet.
Secondly, these thrusters run off of electricity, a lot of it, which means there is a need for batters with a large storage capacity and transfer rate, that must also be lightweight enough to not significantly weigh down the aircraft.
So the final problem is the most significant one of them all, to generate that much power is impossible with current technology, and improvements in things such as solar electricity and compact fusion are the only solution. Still, at the rate technology is advancing these days, it isn't a stretch to imagine that ten years from now the technology jump in both electricity and plasma technology will have been enough to create the first real plasma propelled jetliner.