Physicists launching Kickstarter to build Star Trek-style antimatter drive

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Mar 2, 2016

Hey, we’ve been crowdsourcing everything from TV revivals to wearable tech for years now — so why not the potential future of space exploration, too?

Popular Science reports that former Fermilab physicist Gerald Jackson is preparing to launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of an antimatter propulsion drive, similar to the tech that runs the (fictional) warp drive on the Star Trek Enterprise. Jackson has been working with fellow physicist Steven Howe on their concept for the better part of a decade, but they’ve had minimal luck getting NASA (or anyone else) to pull the trigger and kick in some money for development.

Now they’re turning to the masses. The duo plan to launch a Kickstarter to raise $200,000 to get development rolling on their proposed antimatter drive. That sum would help the team build a device to measure the potential thrust the system could put out, if built. But they’re still a long way from even thinking about making a prototype. The team estimates it’d cost at least $100 million to actually build a drive — assuming it works at all. But, if it did work, it’d be able to potentially propel a spacecraft at 40 percent the speed of light. Which ain’t too shabby.

Not to say it'd be easy. The team would need to figure out a way to generate a decent bit of antimatter (which isn’t cheap or easy), then harness the immense power created when it collides with regular matter (again, not easy). The stuff is also insanely unstable, assuming they’re able to harness it at all. As the report notes, one gram could create an explosion the size of a nuclear bomb. So, yeah, don’t shake it.

Here comes the obvious caveat: This project is the longest of long shots, and if you kick in your money, there’s a good chance you could just be funding a failed footnote in the long history of space exploration. If the scientific community truly saw the project as feasible, they probably wouldn't need to turn to crowdfunding to get it off the ground. Sad, but true. But there’s always the (slim) chance it could work, and you’d be a hero! Needless to say: Kickstart wisely. 

Risky proposition or not, it’s very cool to see a space project of this ambition show up on crowdfunding. Space exploration is slowly starting to democratize, and it seems the rise of companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin might just be the tip of the iceberg.

Welcome to the future, where a few bucks on Kickstarter could help us reach the stars. But, realistically, probably not.


(Via Popular Science, Forbes)