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Scientific American

Escape from Proxima b

16 Apr 2018, 11:00 UTC
Escape from Proxima b ESO/M.Kornmesser

Almost all space missions launched so far by our civilization have been based on chemical propulsion. The fundamental limitation here is easy to understand: a rocket is pushed forward by ejecting burnt fuel gases backwards through its exhaust. The characteristic composition and temperature of the burnt fuel set the exhaust speed to a typical value of a few kilometers per second. Momentum conservation implies that the terminal speed of the rocket is given by this exhaust speed times the natural logarithm of the ratio between the initial and final mass of the rocket.

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