By: Amanda Froelich,
With passion to persevere and see a project succeed, anything is possible. This is certainly true for a young student in the Middle East.Aisha Mustafa, a 19-year old female student from the University of Sohag in Egypt, recently developed a new type of propulsion system for space crafts. Her newly patented invention uses cutting edge quantum physics instead of thrusters, and is an innovative design that may radically change a more than one field.
The new system exploits the quirky law of quantum physics which states “there is no such thing as a vacuum devoid of particles, and energy”. This means ‘space’, or the universe’, is supposedly empty spaces filled with a roiling sea of particles and anti-particles that pop into existence. These particles then annihilate each other in such a short amount of time they cannot be easily detected.
For her invention, Mustafa developed a way of tapping this quantum effect, which is also known as the dynamic Casimir effect. The method uses a ‘moving mirror’ cavity, where two reflective very flat plates are held close together, and then moved slightly to interact with the quantum particle sea. This technical procedure, paired with shaped silicon plates similar to those used in solar powered cells, results in a net force being delivered. A force in space can mean a push or pull which propels a vehicle, and in effect equates to a drive or engine.
Mustafa’s device differs from current methods of initiating movement in space. Currently, most forms of space crafts rely on the rocket principle to work: Some fuel is made energetic and thrust out of an engine, thereby the rocket is pushed forward. Other progressive types of in-space maneuvering (like NASA’s ion drives) still require fuel. But along with the Solar Sail rocket, Aisha’s design is one of the first which does not involve hauling fuel and complex systems into orbit.
The potential of this new design is enormous. Because of its mechanical simplicity and reliability, this new form of spacecraft propulsion could be lighter, cheaper, and thus indirectly lower the cost of space missions. According to Onslam.net, with the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle program, the field of space vehicles propulsion is expanding and growing in importance with ongoing search for new methods of space travel that are faster, safer, and easier.
Many scientists and staff at the University were enthusiastic about her invention and supported the application process to patent the invention with resources, materials, and support. Grateful for the backing from such esteemed leaders, Aisha told Sabah El kheir Ya Masr (Good Morning, Egypt) that she was appreciative, but also concerned about the long-term possibilities of her new system.
Apparently there is no funding for a department of space science in her university and in Egyptian universities in general. This means such important research is currently prevented in strife-ridden Egypt. Until the situation allows for Aisha to follow through with her design and possibly test it out in space, she and other passionate scientists will remain vigilant for opportunities.