• Question: Everyone, if you got the opportunity to engineer a satellite or rocket, would you be able to have pylons near the launch site and on the craft that take static electricity from the air and channel the power into the rocket and use it as a thrust? PostScript - Like a Tesla engine

    Asked by STBMichaelMcC15 to Helen, Hollie, Matt, Phil, Stephen, Sylwia on 7 Mar 2018.
    • Photo: Sylwia Nikel

      Sylwia Nikel answered on 7 Mar 2018:


      I’m afraid I will not be able to answer this question. It is very much outside of my specialisation area.

    • Photo: Stephen Williams

      Stephen Williams answered on 7 Mar 2018:


      Transmitting electrical energy isn’t simple but the best option between ground and say a rocket would probably be microwave transmission. However for this to be efficient the microwave transmission would have track the rocket to ensure the energy is always focused on the rockets receiver otherwise energy would be lost. A problem with electrical transmission is that it becomes less effective as the distance increases and rockets move very quickly so you might only receive the energy you want for a few seconds. Added to this I don’t think it would be possible to propel a rocket to speeds required to leave the Earths gravitational field (know as escape velocity – 25,000 mph) with electric propulsion alone – at least not with current technology. However you raise a good point because the rocket technology we still use today is based on the same technology that was developed back in the 1940s. We need a next generation. There is a company called Reaction Engines that is developing a more advanced “Air Breathing” rocket engine. This isn’t really a next generation but would be a significant step forward. I don’t think this work has completed yet or that the engineering concept has been proven in flight. Of course during your lifetime all that I have said above will probably change and its your generation that will make those changes.

    • Photo: Hollie Heard

      Hollie Heard answered on 7 Mar 2018:


      Alternate energy sources are a big area of interest at the moment, not just for spacecraft and rockets, but in all apsects of life. Much like Stephen has said, current, (pun intended), electric propulsion devices aren’t capable of delivering the thrust needed to get launch vehicles off the ground and into orbit. They are used on satellites, more and more so, where much smaller forces are requried due to the reduction in gravitational forces. Energy storage and transfer in these cases is obviously important so the spacecraft can operate over it’s lifetime and perform any desired manoeuvers. I wouldn’t be surprised if Elon Musk is working on developing these capabilities as along with Tesla and SpaceX he has also recently been involved in develpoing the world’s largest battery in Australia that converts wind power into electrical power. Great idea, maybe one day you can make it a reality!

    • Photo: Phil Allen

      Phil Allen answered on 8 Mar 2018:


      Awesome idea! If you can make it work I will definitely suggest it to our mission concepts team.

      I would suggest it would be a good way to partially power the control room and other ground support buildings as they’re static (more puns). It would be a more environmentally friendly way to power the site and a good use of otherwise wasted energy.

      If you can develop a high thrust electrical propulsion system though then you will have found a big hole in the market 🙂

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