Black-Hole Powered or Anti-Matter Fueled Spaceships?
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December 02, 2009

Black-Hole Powered or Anti-Matter Fueled Spaceships?

Cygnus1 (1) Louis Crane has come up with an idea for an interstellar drive: black-hole powered spaceships, fueled by singularities made in robot-run solar power laser factories hovering just over the sun.  It's fantastic science fiction, but unfortunately some seem to have forgotten the second word in that phrase.

The starship proposed might as well be called Enterprise.  Imagination is incredibly important in all areas of science, driving us to discover and derive understandings beyond our own, but that's not an excuse to stick on a few equations and call it actual science.  The Crane concoction is another unfortunate example of someone waving their hands over a bunch of real equations, shouting "in the future!" and claiming responsibility for actually doing work.

Which we wouldn't even mind, except the paper and its proponents trash other options to make keeping a black hole in the boot look more attractive.  A New Scientist article rubbishes solar sails and antimatter by saying "these ambitious schemes have their shortcomings and it is doubtful they could really go the distance," and in the very next sentence puts forward dark matter and portable black holes instead.  You know, practical options.  Instead of solar sails (which have already been shown to work on some scale) or a fuel which by its very nature would be the most efficient fuel possible.

Crane says "antimatter is hugely inefficient to make in the first place, and it is dangerous stuff - if it touches your spacecraft, it blows it to kingdom come."  He apparently has a different idea of 'dangerous' than we do, one that's entirely compatible with towing a million ton black hole along just behind your craft.  His idea is to instead use a black hole as a battery, focusing an immense amount of energy into a single point using a spherical gamma-ray laser arrangement, (somehow) built in space and fueled by a two hundred and fifty kilometer solar array you've (somehow) built in space close to the sun.  You then (somehow) move the black hole into the end of your spaceship, and let Hawking radiation escaping from the event horizon (somehow) drive your ship forward while (somehow) being held in place and (somehow) not slowing the whole thing to a crawl with its literally space-ripping mass.

You might think we're being unnecessarily critical.  We're not.  We love the idea, but you don't get to criticize other technologies for being impractical (he bashes the dark matter rocket too) while depending on imaginary futurenauts to invent fifteen new types of science for your plan.  Every single step requires his descendants actually building everything (all covered under the armor of "this is only preliminary" in the introduction, of course) in order to render the few Hawking equations he uses relevant.  

In claiming his own idea is more reasonable, he's demanding that all future science only invent imaginary technologies (and at one point he uses the phrase "army of robots" in what's allegedly a real scientific paper) which benefits his scheme - because what are the odds anyone will work on antimatter, the most efficient and interesting substance in existence - or dark matter, the most interesting one that might not be?  Especially since his whole scheme is to use a black hole as a vast battery, when - in fantasy-future-land - antimatter is already the most efficient energy storage there is?

It's very simple:  if you're going to your imagination in equations and upload it onto arxiv, that's awesome.  We love that.  But don't mock the work of others from a high horse that's a cyborg unicorn. 

Luke McKinney


I'm not sure where you're getting the idea that antimatter is an 'efficient' means of storing energy. Ignoring the fact that it's awkward to make in useful quantities, not to mention incredibly difficult to store those useful quantities in any safe manner, the absolute hard limit on its efficiency is 50%, and that's assuming utter perfection of process.

As for driving a starship using a black hole, they're using a gravity-tractor setup, which is the exact same method as is proposed to move potentially Earth-threatening asteroids. I daresay actually manufacturing a black hole is a bit pie-in-the-sky at the moment... but then, so is antimatter.

Guys some things might seem "impossible" right now.

But remember 2000 years ago our todays airplanes, cars, tv, cellphones and other type of technologies would seem like magic or extra terrestrial to the people back then.

Event Horizon anyone? :)

Free Speech? Daily Galaxy, you really are something.

I'm confused as to where all of this hostility is coming from in this article. Very odd. Crane is right, we don't even know what dark matter is, or if it even exists at all (if string theory is correct, there is no need for dark matter). Solar sails work, but the amount of time it would take for solar-sail ships to accelerate to near the speed of light make them impractical. His theory on black hole propulsion seems sound, even if it is pie-in-the-sky.

I think the article was a little too critical. However, McKinney does have a point. Consider this though, what the article speaks against is said to defy current theories..... in the future, they may have different theories.

Come on, People;

The article is very cut and dry. It is not about the technology as much as it is about one person blasting one untested energy theory and placing his own untested theory in the spotlight. If Crane had not been so critical about other concepts...hell, this article might not even have been written!!

"I'm confused as to where all of this hostility is coming from in this article. Very odd. Crane is right, we don't even know what dark matter is, or if it even exists at all"
does it talk about dark matter????. dark matter and anti matter are two different thing. also, if one gram of anti matter collide with one gram matter, it would create an explosion equal to 3x of hiroshima bomb.
(sorry if my english is bad, also, anti matter exist)

I read something different about this idea.
They do not use the black hole like gravity tractor.
I am not sure how they attach the black hole to the ship, can be using magnetic field?
But the propulsion comes to project all the radiation in one direction using a concave reflecting shape? i am right?

And one question, the black hole convert all its mass into energy, i am right?
so this would not be equal efficient than antimatter?

Guys, the enormous amounts of energy required to make Anti-matter in the first place is, either the same amount it is to build a black hole, or even more, so, thus, the only real true way of getting enough power would be to use a black hole to get energy to make anti-matter, so what's the point in using antimatter when a black hole lasts at least a few years, and you already made one to get the power to get your antimatter, we can't even make anything close to the 1 gram required for 3x Hiroshima bomb, a couple billion times the amount of power could get a little closer, but, a black hole allows for a smaller ship with more cargo than an Antimatter ship, because antimatter ships still require enormous amounts of fuel relative to the cargo size to get anywhere close to light speed. So, I would take the black hole, just as dangerous, but hey, what can you say?

what about ion propulsion?

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