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Cyclotron engines as a means of thrust for interplanetary travel?

Space Exploration Asked by dualredlaugh on September 28, 2021

How feasible is it to use a cyclotron in this manner for space propulsion?

Inject small amounts (aliquots) of ionized matter into cyclotron at some high integer multiple n of the cyclotron frequency $omega=qB/m$ so that there are n aliquots at each radius in the cyclotron. Since the time it takes to complete one revolution is the same for all of these aliquots, one could use the frequency $2nomega$ of the alternating electric field to accelerate all these aliquots in a synchronous manner.
This would give essentially a continuous stream of very high speed plasma or material to accelerate spacecraft.
Of course, the aliquots could move at relativistic speeds which would affect the cyclotron frequency by $gamma$. But one could design a magnetic field that gets stronger with increasing radius especially toward outer portions where relativistic effects would be more prominent.
There would also be electrostatic repulsions between aliquots that would need to be taken into account.
The spacecraft would likely need nuclear power source.
Is this a feasible idea?
Has this been thought of already?

2 Answers

Eject the particles at relativistic speeds, into a magnetic decelerator to generating a vector force in the opposite direction. Matter at that speed will increase in mass, to infinity actually, so a small particle could have substantial force through the deceleration cycle, relative to the energy input. Seal the entire unit, then move the particles back to the cyclotron at lower mass/velocity for recycling into the process.

The net effect would be particles at very high speed and mass moving in one direction for some period of time, then moving back the same distance, at low speed, in the opposite direction into the cyclotron for reacceleration with a 0 net force until they enter the decelerating field again. Eventually the particles would be exhausted then reused in a pulsating manner, over and over again forever. A self contained force generating device that could accelerate great mass to relativistic speeds with no matter input or loss, just energy, leveraging the ability of matter to increase in mass as it accelerates.

To over come the torque effects, just use to counter rotating cyclotrons, vary the particles to each in the beginning after each pulse cycle to correct for any imbalances. One could even use four cyclotrons, two counter rotating in the y axis and two in the x axis to control pitch, yaw and roll. Six in three axis would give you the ability to move in any direction, pulse cycles permitting.

Answered by Donus on September 28, 2021

A cyclotron is a type of Ion engine. Cyclotrons (in the classical sense of the word) haven't been used because they have a very low power-to-weight ratio (tons of magnet to accelerate tiny amounts of matter).

There are ion engines that use the Electron cyclotron Resonance principle; these use the cyclotron princple at a tiny scale to create ions that are then accelerated in a linear accelerator.

Answered by Hobbes on September 28, 2021

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