You know the Plasma Jet Engines, the ones they use in the futuristic sci-fi movies, that allow the spacecraft to travel way faster than the conventional engines? Good news, they are coming “to life” in the really near future, and not only they are very fast, they also stay off the fossil fuels, and have a very low cost.
They have been tested and used by research labs, but now, researchers from the Technical University of Berlin want to bring the technology out of the labs, and into the skies! Contrary to the conventional engines, that burn fuels and compressed air, and expel the results from the back of the engine, the plasma jet engine acts like a star or a fusion reactor.
It acts by exciting and compressing gas into a plasma, and then generating an electromagnetic field, that ultimately generates electricity.
The research team, led by Berkant Göksel, is trying to combine the plasma engine with the common passenger jet, to create something affordable that can fly at very high altitudes, while still being able to take off and land.
“We are the first to produce fast and powerful plasma jets at ground level”, told Göksel. “These jets of plasma can reach speeds of up to 20 kilometers per second”.
Off course, like every revolutionary project, there are still several obstacles in its way, the first being the size of the plasma thrusters, that have about 80 millimeters in length, meaning that to propel a standard commercial aircraft, 10 000 of these would be needed, so the current project is not yet the basis for the commercial version. For the time being, the team is using about 100 to 1000 thrusters to propel a small airship, so they can test furthermore.
Another giant problem, is that like anything that run on electricity, there’s the need to store big amounts of energy, and even in this tiny version, there’s the need to have batteries to store it, but more batteries, equals more weight, which is counterproductive.
“An array of thrusters would require a small electrical power plant, which would be impossible to mount on an aircraft with today’s technology”, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology’s Dan Lev told New Scientist.
So, in order to get the technology fully running, we need to wait to get better technology to store the energy, but at least we seem to be in a good way.