Electromagnetic propulsion could take us to the heliopause at a speed unachievable by conventional spacecraft.

Source: NASA

For decades, the only means of space travel have been rocket engines that run off of chemical propulsion. Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, aerospace engineers are devising innovative ways to take us to the stars, including light propulsion, nuclear-fusion propulsion and antimatter propulsion. A new type of spacecraft that lacks any propellant is also being proposed. This type of spacecraft, which would be jolted through space by electromagnets, could take us farther than any of these other methods.

When cooled to extremely low temperatures, electromagnets demonstrate an unusual behavior: For the first few nanoseconds after electricity is applied to them, they vibrate. David Goodwin, a program manager at the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of High Energy and Nuclear Physics, proposes that if this vibration can be contained in one direction, it could provide enough of a jolt to send spacecraft farther and faster into space than any other propulsion method in development.

Goodwin was invited to present his idea at a Joint Propulsion Conference on July 8, 2001, in Salt Lake City, Utah. In this edition of How Stuff Will Work, you will get to see just how Goodwin's electromagnetic propulsion system works and how it could send spacecraft deep into space.