Them space engineers are always looking for promising new ways of a-jettin’ and a-zoomin’ around the solar system. They’ve looked at conventional rockets, ion propulsion and even solar sails and nuclear drives. But nobody has spent much time dreamin about magnetohydrodynamics.
The principle is relatively straightforward–shoot a charged particle through a conducting ring and the way it interacts with the ring’s magnetic field should generate a force. One advantage is that this form of propulsion gets its thrust from the charged particles in the solar wind and so needs no on board fuel.
Now Marian “Thruster” Soida at Jagielonnian University in Poland and a pal have carried out an admittedly superficial analysis that suggests this form of propulsion could produce useful amounts of thrust. They reckon the thrust would be in the range of a few millinewtons for a metre-sized ring which is comparable with ion propulsion.
But there’s a big problem with their conclusion: they assume they have a current of 1 kiloAmp flowing around this ring. That’s a helluvalot of current to get from solar panels so perhaps these guys are thinking nuclear. Even then there would be all kindsa issues with cooling and onboard power management
The researchers say the idea is promising and more detailed calculations should be done. But a kiloAmp is gonna be deal-breaker for most engineers.
Ref: arxiv.org/abs/0712.1487: MHD space sailing