Angry Astronaut made a video based off of my (and Centauri Dreams) Avatar’s Antimatter rocket which is based off an actual scientifically sound design.
The Second Avatar movie passed $2 billion in box office this weekend. The movie will likely pass Titanic for third highest box office. This will only be behind the first Avatar and Avengers Endgame. The movie has been out for seven weeks and made about $100 million is its seventh week with a 40% drop from the prior week.
The start of the first Avatar movie showed the Valkyrie Antimatter rocket design. This was an actual antimatter rocket design. The first Avatar movie made almost $3 billion in box office. The second movie should be able to reach $2.3 to 2.5 billion and could go higher as the first movie had exceptional late-release earnings. James Cameron’s biggest hits just keep rolling with repeat viewings of Titanic and Avatar.
A startup did try to generate antimatter to catalyze fusion reactions. However, Positron Dynamics business failed, despite solid science and technology. Positron Dynamics was trying to use Krypton isotopes to generate positrons. They wanted to breed more Krypton isotopes. They sidestep the issue of antimatter storage, which is one of the biggest problems. We can make tiny amounts antimatter but cannot store what we make for any long amount of time. It would take 10 school buses of volume at the Brillouin limit to trap 1 microgram. They were slowing the positrons that are generated. Krypton 79 isotope generates hot positrons. They were using a system to moderate (slow) the positrons so they can be used.
The Valkyrie Antimatter rocket design was designed to be a far lighter structure for the antimatter rocket than prior designs. The interstellar spaceship that is used in the Avatar movie story is based upon the Valkerie Antimatter Starship designed by Charles Pellegrino and Brookhaven physicist Jim Powell
The Interstellar Vehicle Venture Star (ISV) is one of ten fictional interstellar spaceships used for the looping Earth – Pandora supply chain. It kind of looks like a space station, and that’s because it was designed to operate only in deep space; shuttle-like ships called Valkyries (so the 0.7 light speed spaceship has a real design called Valkyrie but they use the Valkyrie name for th shuttles in the movies.) are the vehicles that actually land on Pandora’s surface. As stated in the movie, the trip between Earth and Pandora takes more than five years, so each Venture Star carries a substantial amount of cargo and over 100 passengers, plus four crew members who also hit the sack in cryosleep for the entirety of the trip.
The Venture Star covers the 4.37 light years of distance between Earth and the Alpha Centauri system in an expected timeframe of 6.75 years – an initial acceleration takes place for about six months, reaching 0.7 times the speed of light.
There have been other lighter-weight antimatter sail designs. Light weight means less antimatter is needed to reach mission speeds.
Dr. Pellegrino served as a scientific consultant on James Cameron’s Avatar movie. The interstellar vehicles seen in the film are based on the designs of Pellegrino and Powell’s Valkyrie rockets, fused with Robert L. Forward’s designs.
Instead of a solid spacecraft with a rocket at the back, Valkyrie is built more like a train, with the crew quarters, fuel tanks, radiation shielding, and other vital components being pulled behind the engine on long tethers. This greatly reduces the mass of the ship, because it no longer requires heavy structural members and radiation shielding.
Initially the Valkyrie’s engine would work by using small quantities of antimatter to initiate an extremely energetic fusion reaction. A magnetic coil captures the exhaust products of this reaction and it is expelled with an exhaust velocity of 12-20% the speed of light (35,975-58,900 km/s). As the spacecraft approaches 20% the speed of light more and more antimatter is fed into the engines until it switches over to pure matter-antimatter annihilation. It will use this mode to accelerate the remainder of the way to .92 c. Pellegrino estimates that the ship would require 100 tons of matter and antimatter, with an undetermined excess of matter to ensure the antimatter is efficiently burned, although another calculation suggests that to reach a speed of .92 c and decelerate afterward Valkyrie would require a mass ratio of 22 (or 2200 tons of fuel for a 100-ton spacecraft).
The chief feasibility issue of Valkyrie (or for any antimatter-beam drive) lies in its requirement of quantities of antimatter fuel measured in tons. Antimatter cannot be produced at an efficiency of more than 50% (that is to say, to produce one gram of antimatter requires twice as much energy as you would get from annihilating that gram with a gram of matter). Since a half a kilogram of antimatter would yield 9×10^16 J if annihilated with an equal amount of matter, this quickly adds up to enormous energy requirements for its production. To produce the 50 tons of antimatter Valkyrie would need would require 1.8×10^22 J. This is the same amount of energy that the entire human race currently uses in about forty years.
This may be solved by creating a truly enormous power plant for the antimatter factory, probably in the form of a vast array for solar panels with a combined area of millions of square kilometers. Alternately the antimatter-fusion hybrid drive the Valkyrie uses to accelerate up to 0.2 c would require much less antimatter and, with an exhaust velocity of 30-60,000 km·s-1, still compares quite favorably with competing engines such as the inertial confinement pulse drive used by Project Daedalus or Project Orion (nuclear propulsion).
The engine is simply a magnetic coil, which generates a magnetic field, against which particles from the matter-antimatter reaction zone are bounced. The magnetic field (and hence the coil), is propelled forward by the bounce. The coil then pulls the rest of the ship along on a string, much as a motorboat pulls a water skier. A pulling rather than a pushing engine eliminates most of the structural girders that would not only, by their mere existence, add unwarranted mass, but would multiply that mass many times over by their need for shields and cooling equipment, and by added fuel to push the added fuel . . . leading to a chain reaction of design complications. . .and to an engine that burns hotter, but which cannot afford to push the giant to even a significant fraction of lightspeed. By contrast to what has traditionally become known as the large, slow-moving ‘space ark’ approach to interstellar flight, Valkyrie becomes a low mass speedboat.
Valkyrie is ab ultralight rocket. It consists mostly of naked magnetic coils and pods held together by tethers. Indeed, it can best be summed up as a kite (with magnetic field lines instead of paper sheets) that flies through space on a muon wind of its own creation. Valkyrie’s fuel stores (both matter and antimatter combined) are estimated at slightly less than half the mass of the rest of the spacecraft, or about one hundred tons. technology. The Valkyrie will have a maximum cruising speed of 92 percent lightspeed.
A suggested approach is made for the generation of antimatter, but there are several ways advanced technology could be used to produce a lot of antimatter. The Valkyrie has some similarities to the Vasmir.
Mr. Pellegrino’s response to Adam Crowl:
On Valkyrie, the lower mass of material you were quoting was for up to 10%c – much lower than the mass for giants like Daedalus, and other such nonsense. The mass of propellant is kept low because up to about 10% c you can go with the lower exhaust velocities of antiproton-triggered fusion.
In any case, the antiproton triggered fusion system, scaled down to Valkyrie Mark II, is wonderfully practical for getting around the solar system at a mere 750 km/sec. (this velocity would eventually be practical for Project Spaceguard: the kinetic force of merely ten Toyota masses impacting a comet or asteroid at this velocity (diameter 1/4 mile) would completely “dust” the object.
In answer to original question, for a true, Valkyrie Mark III (requiring direct proton-antiproton annihilation after 15%c), interstellar crewed mission, the propellant mass would of course exceed the ship mass. After 92%c, the excess becomes too extreme.
Mark III Engine
Mark III is quite simple, actually. Temperature regulation in the antimatter pods will control how fast or slow antihydrogen white flake is permitted to evaporate. As the evaporated antihydrogen leaves the magnetic bottle, and is guided toward the magnetic gun barrel of an atomic accelerator, the atoms are ionized and stripped of their positrons. The positrons are simply ejected into space (for, if allowed to react with electrons, they will produce powerful gamma rays while providing essentially zero thrust). The antiprotons are accelerated to approximately 750 kilometers per second, and when they arrive at the reaction zone, behave somewhat like slow relativistic bombs (mark this as an oxymoron, albeit an essential one). At this velocity, the antiprotons pass like ghosts through beryllium windows, hardly noticing that they have passed through anything at all. They detonate when they reach (‘and stick to’) the hydrogen nuclei behind the window (including deuterium, and possibly traces of tritium), and by carefully controlling the number of antiprotons reaching the hydrogen (by regulating evaporation rates in the antimatter pods), and hence controlling the temperature of the hydrogen target, the result becomes a finely tuned fusion reaction – in effect, an antimatter triggered hydrogen bomb that, instead of exploding, merely glows, at any rate one wants it to glow.
That glow is in fact a spray of (for our purposes) reasonably massive charged particles, among them helium nuclei. Just as the antiprotons shooting in through the beryllium window fail to notice that a container wall exists, any fusion products shooting out (at the still relatively slow velocity of 12 to 20 percent lightspeed), depart like beams of light exiting glass. The particles then bounce off the ship’s forward magnetic field, giving away their energy as thrust.
As the ship’s speedometer begins to climb above twelve to twenty percent the velocity of light, fusion ions, though more massive than the products of straightforward proton-antiproton annihilation, decline significantly in propulsion efficiency. To push the Valkyrie to a higher fraction of lightspeed, higher exhaust velocities are needed. At this point, the Mark III reaction mix depends less and less upon fusion, until ultimately it shifts purely to proton-antiproton pairing. At this point, the less efficient reaction (which sheds low mass particles at high speed), has become the more efficient reaction, if for no other reason than it is our only choice.
The reaction products, traveling at high relativistic speed (the speed we want to get our rockets up to) consist of elementary particles called mesons. Each meson has a mass intermediate between a proton and an electron. It is essentially a proton fragment gone so relativistic (read ballistic) that it is at once a particle and a wave, and some of its quarks and gluons have dispersed into the universe as energy (read, massless photons and neutrinos). The matter-antimatter spray produces three varieties, or ‘flavors,’ of pi-mesons.
1. Neutral pi-mesons comprise thirty percent of the proton-antiproton reaction products. They decay immediately into gamma rays.
2. Positively charged pi-mesons, traveling near the speed of light, decay into positively charged mu-mesons (muons) and neutrinos after flying, on average, only twenty-one meters. The muons last several microseconds (almost two kilometers) before decaying into positively charged electrons and neutrinos.
3. Negatively charged pi-mesons behave the same way positively charged ones do, except that the resulting muons and electrons are negatively charged.
The charged pions and muons are the particles we want, and preferably we want the innermost fringes of the engine’s magnetic field (or magnetic pusher plate) to reach within twenty-one meters of the reaction zone, so that it can steal whatever thrust the pions have to contribute before a significant fraction of them have decayed and shed some of their energy as useless neutrinos.
Avatar Movie Spaceship Backstory
Antimatter Tutorial Video
NASA Antimatter Production Paper
The development of antiproton Penning traps has progressed extremely well over the last 10 years. The PS200 experiment trapped over 10^6 antiprotons for periods of hours. This is seen as a means of soon being able to confine up to 10^12 antiprotons with transfer to a remote site for periods of many days. Synergistic Technologies of Los Alamos, NM is currently developing a magnetic degrading spectrometer which will simply and inexpensively decelerate antiprotons into such portable traps. In this case, a more efficient decelerator section will be required to achieve production rates equivalent to ~1 microgram per year. Antiproton decelerators which accomplish this do exist (e.g., at CERN), and in the case of FNAL would cost about $10 million to construct.
1980’s a RAND Corporation study of antimatter production – antimatter production capacity of 0.1 to 1 gram per year could be achieved with a new machine costing $3 to $10 billion.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.