(Submitted November 26, 1997)
Could you send me some info on Anti-Matter and on Nuclear Powered Spacecraft
I've seen these two things on the internet or FOXTEL and would like to know
some more about them.
Our website contains a lot of information on antimatter. If you enter
'antimatter' into the search feature on our homepage you will get a list of
links to all the places the topic is discussed.
There is a book called 'Mirror Matter' by Robert Forward which talks about
engineering with antimatter and using it to make rockets. It is currently
out of print, but it may be in a local library.
Hardcover, 262 pages,
Published by John Wiley & Sons,
Publication date: May 1, 1988,
Dimensions (in inches): 9.50 x 6.65 x .98,
NASA does not have plans or designs at present on either nuclear powered
rockets or anti-matter engines. Anti-matter is very very very expensive to
make (a gram of antiprotons would cost several hundred billions of dollars
to make...). And you thought the price of gasoline was bad! It's really not
a good choice for fuel right now nor into the easily foreseeable future.
Science fiction authors do like it, however. Nuclear engine designs are,
however, somewhat more realistic. The real bugaboo is safety: what happens
if the rocket fails or explodes. I know of only one particular design for
nuclear rockets (although I'm certain many exist) called "Orion" which
consists of a very large metal plate lofted to orbit by exploding low yield
atomic bombs underneath it. As you can imagine, the "rocket exhaust" for
an Orion vehicle would pose some serious environmental hazards...
That said, there are far more interesting things NASA REALLY IS DOING!
New rocket designs like aerospike engines, supersonic combustion ramjets
(often called "scramjets"), solar/electric propulsion, ion drives... For
the scoop on some of these fascinating and REALISTIC ideas, check out
the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Program page at
The truth is even more exciting than fiction!
You also might want to search the WWW for information on new rockets
such as the X-33 program.
Jesse Allen, with help from David Palmer and Paul Butterworth
for the Ask an Astrophysicist Team
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