Antimatter-Based Interstellar Propulsion

Author: Gerald Jackson, Ph.D. Physics, Co-Founder and President, Hbar Technologies, LLC

Abstract Background: While antimatter-based propulsion concepts have been proposed for several decades, the limited production of antimatter and its storage difficulties have retarded their development. Dr. Steven Howe identified an antimatter niche for the acceleration of small unmanned interstellar probes, a concept funded by NIAC starting in 2002, wherein the antimatter was used to initiate fission events whose daughters provided thrust.

Abstract Objectives: The purpose of this research is to improve the Howe concept by focusing all fission daughters into a coherent exhaust stream, thereby reducing the amount of antimatter needed and enabling spacecraft velocities as high as 0.1c.

Abstract Methods: The first step was to critically evaluate antimatter-based propulsion in light of the rocket equation, which pointed to the induction of fission as the most efficient use of antimatter. The second step was to identify a particle accelerator architecture coupled with a focusing system that mixed antimatter with depleted uranium while simultaneously allowing both fission daughters to escape into the focused exhaust stream. The third step was to generate an unmanned scientific Proxima Centauri mission profile that decelerates and orbits Proxima b, returning data for decades. The fourth step was to generate a plan to synthesis antimatter at the rate needed to enable such a mission.

Abstract Results: Given that the maximum exhaust velocity of fission daughters is only 0.046c, a spacecraft velocity of 0.1c requires 33g of antimatter for every kilogram of spacecraft dry mass. If the spacecraft velocity were reduced to 0.05c the amount of needed antimatter drops to 8g. A plan for producing antimatter at a rate of 10g/year with accompanying cost estimate has been developed.

TRL Assessment: The propulsion concept is based on experimentally validated accelerator and particle physics experience: TRL 3. Enhanced antimatter production consistent with a Proxima Centauri mission is a large extrapolation of experimental work performed at several laboratories: TRL 4.

Abstract Development: The critical path is demonstrating enhanced antimatter production rates. An experimental program has been developed.

Abstract Near-Term Technical Milestones: Generate a technical design report for the first enhanced antimatter production experiment validating technology and production costs.

Abstract Conclusions: Interstellar antimatter-based propulsion at 0.1c and kilogram-scale is feasible and experimentally validated. Demonstration of economic feasibility is required.