“The use of chemical based rockets to leave our planet and explore space may very well be a dead end technology. It’s old, outdated and it’s extremely inefficient. Surely we’ve discovered or improved upon newer, more efficient technology in these last 60 years, right? The answer to that is yes, and we’re going to go over them in detail.
We will explore exotic technology that includes using solar wind to sail amongst the stars, using nuclear bombs to approach light speed, and even dabbling with technology that exploits loopholes in the laws of physics which NASA has recently been experimenting with.
What’s Wrong With Chemical Rockets?
Chemical rockets may be a dead end because of their extreme inefficiency. Just to put the space shuttle into earth orbit (to reach 17,500 MPH), the rockets need to carry 15 times its weight in fuel – and that’s considered extremely efficient among other chemical-based rocket systems. To escape earth’s gravitational pull and explore our solar system (to reach 25,000 MPH), you would need significantly more fuel.
Occasionally, space agencies can mitigate some of the problems by using gravitational assists from planets. They use a planet’s gravity well to slingshot a probe toward its destination, significantly speeding it up.
The problem with this solution is one of availability. To take advantage of a planet’s gravity well, the planet has to be in a specific place, at a specific time. This leaves a small window which a probe would need to be launched. Some of these windows can be incredibly rare. The Voyager space probes, which explored the planets in the outer solar system, took advantage of a planet alignment that happens only once every 176 years.
Then there is the cost. The average cost to put the space shuttle into orbit is 450 million USD per mission. That’s a huge price tag just to reach low earth orbit, and it’s also a big part of the reason the shuttle program was scrapped. If we wanted to leave earth orbit and explore our solar system with such an inefficient technology (without gravitational assists), the problems become severely compounded. Because there aren’t any fuel stations in space, a spaceship has to carry all its fuel with it, fuel which is not only pricey, but heavy.
If we wanted to leave our solar system and travel to our closest neighboring star in a reasonable time frame (say, 900 years) using standard chemical-based rockets, it would require 10137 kilograms of fuel – that is more fuel than exists on our planet. Thus, we need to look towards developing a better, more efficient method of propulsion.”