Unconventional Rocket Drives



Mankind will migrate into space, and will cross the airless Saharas which separate planet from planet and sun from sun.
— Winwood Reade, 1872

Space travel and exploration have always been a fascinating subject to many. Even before the first telescopes were trained on the heavens, poets, scientists, philosophers alike have long mused about the mysteries of space. The last century in particular has seen a whirlwind of developments surrounding the subject of space. Not only were better telescopes made, more cosmological theories were hypothesised, and rockets that could exit Earth’s atmosphere were launched. Perhaps the most important of them all would be the success of rockets.

The rockets of this century, or conventional rockets, utilise the basic Newtonian principle of action and reaction forces to generate forward thrust. Propellants are burnt in a combustion chamber to produce exhaust gases that act as what is known as a working liquid. The flow of this working liquid generates a reaction force that produces a thrust on the rocket engine which propels the rocket forward. Examples of propellants include liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen and nitrogen tetroxide.

Such propulsion systems seem safe, robust and relatively adequate for most mission scopes of today. However in reality, there are limitations to present propulsion systems. Much has been made of the fact that marginal benefits accrued from improving conventional rocket drives are declining. This has served as motivation for many space agencies to embark on a search for a futuristic rocket drive, one that would traverse the airless Saharas with ease and bring space within the grasp of mankind.

Purpose and Scope

The case for unconventional rocket drives has been a teetering one. Whilst these rocket drives theoretically offer gargantuan promises of excellent performance and efficiency, virtually all of them fall prey to the hand of technology. The numerous trials-and-errors required before the technology, if at all, kicks off, would incur a huge amount of time and funds. As such, the effort invested would have to be fully justified. Furthermore, unconventional drives which rely on distorting the laws of physics seem more science fiction than science. The propensity for some to brush aside unconventional rocket drives is therefore understandable.

This website sets out to introduce some of these unconventional rocket drives. Also, their characteristics are compared both against each other and against conventional drives. Where possible we have included videos to illustrate how such futuristic systems would function and links in the bibliography sections for you to find out more information. Please note that a more detailed analysis of the seven propulsion systems can be found in the accompanying report.

Click here to download our full report.