March 14th, 2007 | admin
Future spacecraft may surf the magnetic fields of Earth and other planets, taking previously unfeasible routes around the solar system, according to a proposal funded by NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts. The electrically charged craft would not need rockets or propellant of any kind.
Mason Peck of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, US, has received a grant to study the idea, which is based on the fact that magnetic fields exert forces on electrically charged objects.
He says a satellite could charge itself up in one of two ways – either by firing a beam of charged particles into space, or simply by allowing a radioactive isotope to emit charged particles. The charged satellite would then be gently pushed by Earth’s rotating magnetic field, enabling it to change orbit and even escape to interplanetary space. Early signs suggest the idea may work…