Attaining the Universal Speed Limit

Posted: 1 August, 2009 in Literature, Science

Well, in the light of recent events in F1 events I thought I’d just put up an interesting read involving the “Universal Speed Limit,” which further demonstrates the power involved in high speeds.

Ferrari’s driver, Massa was recently involved in what has been described as a “freak accident,” when a spring came loose from Barrichello’s GP car in a qualifier, and connected with the helmet of the Ferrari driver who was speeding along at 260 kph. He suffered a fractured skull amongst other injuries.

If that is the effect of something small traveling at 260 kph, have you ever stopped to consider the requirements and ramifications of travel at light-speed? Here’s an excerpt from Gary Bates’ Alien Intrusion:

“Einstein theorized that the maximum speed possible would be c, that is, the speed of light. This is because as our speed increases, our mass increases until at c, our mass becomes infinite. Most people think that because objects become weightless in space, they would be easy to propel, but this is incorrect. Even in space, the more mass an object has, the more energy you need to porpel it. To illustrate, let’s say that an astronaut is on a space walk and is going to throw two objects. The first object is a one-pound ball and the second object is a 30 000 pound ball. Neither ball weighs anything¬† because there is virtually no gravity up there. If the astronaut has a good baseball arm, he would be able to throw the small ball very fast. However, he would barely budge the large ball. It would feel like he was pushing against a wall. The only movement takiing place (apart from a slight movement of the big ball), would be the astronaut moving backward.

How much energy will it take to propel a spaceship to ultra-high speeds? To keep things easy to visualize, we are going to calculate the energy needed to propel a one-pound object to 50% of the speed of light. The formula to determine this is

Kinetic energy = 1/2 (mass)(velocity)(velocity)

To propel an object that weighs one pound to a velocity 50% of the speed of light would require an energy source equal to the energy of 98 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs. That’s a tremendous amount of energy.

To put the energy requirements into perspective, lets consider some interesting facts about NASA’s space shuttle – the most excellent space machine available to us today:

  • It takes only about eight minutes for the space shuttle to accelerate to a speed of more than 27 358 kilometers per hour, the velocity required to enter Earth’s orbit (escape velocity to leave our planet is 40 000 kph).
  • The space shuttle main engine wight 1/7 as much as a train engine but delivers as much horsepower as 39 locomotives.
  • The turbo pump on the space shuttle’s main engine is so powerful it could drain an average family-sized swimming pool in 25 seconds.
  • The space shuttle’s three main engines and two solid rocket boosters generate some 3.3 million kilograms of thrust. That’s just over 1 percent of the space shuttle’s power.
  • If their heat energy could be converted to electric power, two boosters firing for two minutes only would produce 2.2 million kilowatt hours of power, enough to supply the entire power demand of 87 000 homes for a full day.

These details highlight that the space shuttle is a staggering piece of technology which uses enormous amounts of energy. Yet it pales into insignificance compared to the energy requirements needed to propel a spaceship at anywhere near light speed. It would require energy equal to 23 million atomic bombs to propel the space shuttle to 50% of the speed of light (c). At 90 percent of c, it requires the energy of 73 million atomic bombs, or 351 years of the combined power output of all U.S. energy facilities. Of course, once the space ship reaches its intended destination, it will need to slow down. To stop the spaceship, it would require the same amount of energyas it took to get it moving. If the spaceship plans on returning back to Earth, it would need energy to speed up and slow down one more time. This means we need four times the original energy requirements listed above. Quite simple, we do not have energy sources at our disposal that could achieve these goals.”

“Even if the power problems could be solved, there are other serious hiccups for the viability of faster-than-light travel. Although there is a lot of empty “space” in space, there are also many objects, both large and small.

It is estimated that there are 100 000 dust particles per cubic kilometer of space. At light speed (c=300 000 km per second), an impact with just one of these tiny objects would destroy a spaceship. Even at one-tenth the speed of light, the impact would be equivalent to about 10 tons of TNT. Encountering a larger, say, pea-sized object while flying at just 50 percent of c would produce kinetic energy equal to 2.2 atomic bombs. Damage was caused to the space shuttle Challenger when in 1983 it hit a small paint flak with such force that it gouged a small crater in the front window (these windows were designed to be extremely robust). The Hubble Space Telescope already has several holes in its structure after just 12 years circling the earth, traveling at just a fraction of the speeds required for galactic travel…”

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