The Antimatter Alternative

  • Paul Gilster


Science fiction’s treatments of antimatter for propulsion have sometimes had the feel of a conjuring trick, where the illusionist distracts the eye while doing some completely obvious thing to make the trick work (don’t blink or the Statue of Liberty will disappear). Bypassing vast technical problems to create an easy route to the stars, such stories use antimatter the way some writers used hyperspace — as a plot device without serious foundation in science. But the best science fiction demands more of itself, in keeping with the field’s premise that good stories come only from science that is both believable and consistent. Such work examines a theory from every direction, probing not only for drama but for what Richard Feynman wonderfully called “the kick in the discovery.” Both laboratory researchers and fictional spacemen can relate to that, but the discovery had better be, if not real, at least plausible.


Fusion Reaction Propulsion System Science Fiction Charged Pion Solar Sail 
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  1. p.77
    “the few ragged survivors of the `antimatter wars’ of 16 billion years ago.”—John G. Cramer, “Antimatter in a Trap,” Analog Science Fiction and Fact, December 1985.Google Scholar
  2. p.77
    “at the blinding moment of collision.”—Paul Preuss has written one of the few science fiction novels that deals with the production of antimatter in realistic settings. The novel, called Broken Symmetries (Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Ultramarine Publishing, 1983), deals with particle research and the odd things that come out of collisions at relativistic speeds.Google Scholar
  3. p.78
    “delivered in a lecture at the Fourth International Astronautical Congress and subsequently published,” —E. Sänger, “The Theory of Photon Rockets,” in Space Flight Problems (Biel-Bienne, Switzerland: Laubscher, 1953).Google Scholar
  4. p.78
    “or use the flow to heat a propellant such as liquid hydrogen.”—Robert L. Forward and Joel Davis, Mirror Matter: Pioneering Antimatter Physics (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1988), 135–36. For the Morgan design, seep. 239.Google Scholar
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    “770 pounds of antimatter and 24 tons of liquid hydrogen.”—Ibid., 239–40.Google Scholar
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    “one hundred times more efficient than a fusion reaction.”—Eugene Mallove and Gregory Matloff, The Starflight Handbook: A Pioneer’s Guide to Interstellar Travel (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1989), 51.Google Scholar
  7. p.80
    “although the antimatter theme was by then but a minor one.”—Forward’s Mirror Matter has a nice overview of science fictional treatments of antimatter on pages 49–61.Google Scholar
  8. p.81
    “the related problem of building a workable, long-life nuclear-fusion engine.”—The AIMStar mission is described in Kevin J. Kramer et al., “AIMStar: Antimatter Initiated Microfusion for Pre-Cursor Interstellar Missions,” in Space Technology and Applications International Forum-2000, edited by M. S. El-Genk, CP504,1412–19.Google Scholar
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    “the pellets could be exploded at the rate of one every second to obtain the needed thrust”—G. Gaidos, R. A. Lewis, and G. A. Smith, “Antiproton Catalyzed Microfission/Fusion Propulsion Systems for Exploration of the Outer Solar System and Beyond,” available at the Penn State Web site: A popularized version of the Penn State work can be found in Stefano Coledan, “Antimatter Spaceships,” Popular Mechanics, February 2003.Google Scholar
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    “studies that would increase these capabilities by 100 times.”—“Reaching for the Stars: Scientists Examine Using Antimatter and Fusion to Propel Spacecraft,” Science@NASA, April 12,1999. Available online at http://science.nasa.govinewhome/headlines/propmpr99_1.htm.Google Scholar
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    “can store antiprotons for up to ten days.” —M. H. Holzscheiter et al., “Production and Trapping of Antimatter for Space Propulsion Applications,” available online at Also see Penn State’s Web site at Scholar
  12. p.83
    “studies that would increase these capabilities by 100 times.” —G. Jackson, “Commercial Production and Use of Anti-Protons,” Proceedings of EPAC 2002, Paris, France. Available online at Scholar
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    “up to 300 times the thrust of a conventional chemical rocket engine.”Emrich’s work is described in “Nuclear Fusion Could Power NASA Spacecraft,” by Duncan Graham-Rowe in New Scientist, January 23, 2003.Google Scholar
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    “that avoids the instabilities of older containment systems.”—See Terry Kammash and M. J. Lee, “A Fusion Propulsion System for Near-Term Space Exploration,” Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 49 (1996), pp. 351–56 for an explanation of the gas dynamic mirror concept.Google Scholar
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    “while Jupiter would be only a month away.”—David Dooling, “NASA to Begin Fusion Reactor Testing,”, July 21, 200o.Google Scholar
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    “Honor Bound Honor Born”— Steven D. Howe, Honor Bound Honor Born (Los Alamos, N.M.: LunaTech Press, 1997).Google Scholar
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    “Antimatter Driven Sail for Deep Space Missions.”—Steven D. Howe, “Antimatter Driven Sail for Deep Space Missions,” a Phase I study for NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts, available online at Scholar
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    “flesh out the entire architecture for both missions, the Oort Cloud and Alpha Centauri.”—Telephone interview with Stephen D. Howe, April 22, 2003.Google Scholar
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    “make a loo-watt bulb shine for fifteen minutes.”—From CERN’s “Frequently Asked Questions About Antimatter,” available online at Scholar
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    “prevent it from contacting the chamber walls and annihilating.”—Steven D. Howe and Gerald A. Smith, “Enabling Exploration of Deep Space: High Density Storage of Antimatter,” NIAC Phase 1 Final Report. Available at the NIAC Web site: Scholar
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    “so that it drifts toward the sail.”—Howe interview, April 22, 2003.Google Scholar
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    “he is still in the realm of where we can have human exploration of the outer planets.”—Interview with John Cole at Marshall Space Flight Center, July 30, 2003.Google Scholar
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    “announced that they had created, for the first time, large numbers of antihydrogen atoms.”—From CERN press release, “Thousands of Cold Anti-Atoms Produced at CERN,” September 18, 2002. The CERN experiments with a great deal of supporting information are presented online at CERN’s Web site: Scholar
  24. p.89
    “ten million dollars per milligram.”—Robert L. Forward, Indistinguishable from Magic (New York: Baen Books, 1995) 25–26.Google Scholar
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    “robotic probes and even manned missions to neighboring star systems”—Advanced antimatter concepts are from “Advanced Propulsion Concepts,” a CD compiled in 1989 by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and made available online at Scholar
  26. p.91
    “such a rocket pushes engineering to the breaking point.”—The story, like most of Smith’s, is a gem. “Golden the Ship Was—Oh! Oh! Oh!” appeared in the April 1959 issue of Amazing Stories and reappears in various Smith collections, including The Best of Cordwainer Smith (New York: Nelson Doubleday, 1975).Google Scholar
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    “with just a small laser dumped on a very small target.” —Kammash, telephone interview, August 14, 2003.Google Scholar
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    “in the inertial confinement fusion concepts we discussed in Chapter 3.”— For more on the phenomenon of extreme light, see Gerard A. Mourou and Donald Umstadter, “Extreme Light,” Scientific American, May 2002, pp. 81–86.Google Scholar
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    “in his proposal in a study for NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts.”—Terry Kammash, “Ultrafast-Laser Driven Plasma for Space Propulsion,” NIAC oo-oz Final Report, October 2001. Available online at Kammash is also the editor of Fusion Energy in Space Propulsion (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 1995).Google Scholar
  30. p.93
    “then we’ll have a system that could make it in a hundred years instead of a hundred thousand years.” —Kammash interview, August 14, 2003.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2004

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  • Paul Gilster

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