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Title: Propulsion of Spacecrafts to Relativistic Speeds Using Natural Astrophysical Sources
Authors: Manasvi Lingam and Abraham Loeb
First Author’s Institution: Florida Institute of Technology and Harvard University
Status: Accepted to ApJ
Travelling to distant stars is one of humanity’s long-term aspirations. However, interstellar travel is a challenging endeavour due to the vast distances between objects in the universe. For example, our closest stellar neighbour, Proxima Centauri, is over four light-years away. The journey there would take over 73,000 years with the Voyager 1 spacecraft — too long for a human crew. In general, travelling to other stars is only possible at relativistic speeds.
A critical factor limiting the velocity of traditional rockets is their need to carry fuel. Faster speeds require more fuel, but the weight of the fuel also slows the rocket down. Accordingly, more fuel is needed to accelerate! This dilemma, also called the tyranny of the rocket equation, implies ...