When you consider that conventional chemical rockets extract a mere 10-8 of the energy locked up in their fuel, the attraction of antimatter becomes undeniable. Could we build an engine that extracts 100 percent of the energy created by matter-antimatter annihilation? Louis Crane (Kansas State University) is dubious, pointing to problems of storage and the difficulty of making enough antimatter to get the job done.
Black Holes as a Propulsion Option
Working with colleague Shawn Westmoreland, Crane has been exploring a different and far more speculative option for upping the energy extraction levels. What about using black holes for propulsion? Specifically, Crane and Westmoreland ask whether Hawking radiation from black holes can power a starship, calculating that a black hole of about a million tons would be just the right size, small enough to generate the needed Hawking radiation, while large enough to survive for the duration of a century-long star crossing.
Crane and Westmoreland’s paper on using Hawking radiation for this purpose has been kicking around on the Net for a bit, never quite making it to the top of the queue here, but Marcus Chown gives it a good look in the latest New Scientist, so let’s pause ...