When we consider the future opportunities of intercontinental or interstellar travel we are always faced with the same problems. The limitation of fuel tanks, range and fuel types, fossilized or any other kind, limit speed… Hypothetically, an average man is able to flight around the world in 80-100 hours. However, it would take 70.000 years with the fastest rockets to reach the next closest star.
Thus, the mankind is still in the process of trying to find a good, reliable and vastly available energy source. Nuclear power, because of the extreme energy output, was promised to be the energy of future. It is estimated that one nuclear power plant generates as much energy per day as 50.000 wind power stations. Experts thought that the radioactive waste that was produced could be turn into non dangerous material within one and half decades. Unfortunately, in the past 60 years, when the first nuclear power station was built, there was not any development in the problem of recycling the radioactive waste. The countries, which make great profit through nuclear power plants, simply ignore this problem. They either dump their waste in third world countries, or seal the waste in boxes made of different metals. These methods are far from being safe and good for the environment, so it seems like we need to put a lot more effort in making clean nuclear waste before we build more plants.
Regarding the transport issues, the ion propulsion system can be one of the solutions. Rocket engines generally work by pushing propellant away from the craft. This pushes the craft in the opposite direction. Ion engines use the same formula, however, even much more efficient. A gas, which is heavier than helium or neon- Xenon, flows into the ion engine, where an electrical charge is given.
Charged atoms are called ions. Xenon ions can be pushed around by electrical voltage. A pair of grids in the ion engine, electrified to almost 1300 volts, accelerates the ions to very high speed and basically shoots them out of the engine. As the ions fly away from the engine, they push the spacecraft, propelling it in the opposite direction. Xenon ions travel at about 35 kilometers/second and this means that ion engines would be at least 10 times faster than the rockets we have today. Also, the fuel consumption would be ten times lower. The ion engines use only a very small amount of xenon and it means that the thrust is extremely low. It can take four days or more just to empty 1 kilogram of xenon. As a result, ion engines can be in action for years. The effect of the gentle thrust slowly increases, and ultimately generates speeds far beyond the capacity of conventional propellants.
All these facts promise that in the future we will be able to travel successfully outside of our solar-system with efficient fuel and propulsion systems like ion engines are.
We can really look forward to absolutely advanced forms of space travel.