Sep 072011

Snagged off the internet are a few pages from a Russian (I think…) magazine. Sadly, I cannot make heads or tails of it… not too surprising given that I have no knowledge of the Russian language beyond telling someone “Poshyol ty” is probably a good way to get hit.

Anyway, can anyone reasonably well-versed in Russian take a glance at the text and tell me what it’s describing? I don’t need a full translation, just the gist of it… who designed it for why, and what exactly it is. The title indicates it’s a “photon rocket,” which normally means a matter/antimatter rocket. But if it’s something else, especially if it’s something nuclear-pulsey, I’d like to know.

UPDATE: Thanks to several commenters, it’s a description of Eugen Sanger’s “photon rocket,” an antimatter annihilation propulsion system concept from the early 1960’s.


 Posted by at 12:20 am
  • archieppe


    why don’t you try to send it to Flateric buddy at SPF?
    Actually he is Russian (lives near Moscow) and probably could help you

    • admin

      Because then all my millions of blog readers would miss out.

  • a visitor

    It’s a reprint from Polish “Young Technician” – a science magazine for teens.
    Article is about a photon rocket being designed by doctor Eugen Zenger (?) from Stuttgart.

  • fightingirish

    Probably the original source:
    Eugen Sänger – Zur Strahlungsphysik der Photonen-Strahlantriebe und Waffenstrahlen (Deutsche Fassung) (= Mitteilungen aus dem Forschungsinstitut für Physik der Strahlantriebe e.V. Stuttgart. Heft 10)

    Can’t find an online version in German or in English so far. Maybe someone at a German Technical University might have better chances to get a copy.


    • Pat Flannery

      That would probably be him; from Wikipedia:

      “By 1954, Sänger had returned to Germany and three years later was directing a jet propulsion research institute in Stuttgart. Between 1961 and 1963 he acted as a consultant for Junkers in designing a ramjet-powered space-plane that never left the drawing board. Sänger’s other theoretical innovations during this period were proposing means of using photons for interplanetary and interstellar spacecraft propulsion, including the solar sail.”

      This must be his photon drive concept.

  • fightingirish

    see If you can use this link and translate it via Google:


  • AG

    As it was said above it’s a Russian translation of a Polish article by Y. Gadomski (not sure about my translation of the name). The diagram on the picture says:
    Reflector (leftmost)
    Point of annihilation
    antiparticle accelerator (top box)
    particle accelerator (bottom box)
    Fuel (large box in the middle)
    biological protection
    people, hardware (the rightmost cycle)

  • viesturs

    It is quite hard to make out some letters so I will not try a literal translation, but a quick summary instead. It is something like this:

    Advances in rocket technology are being made. In the same time possible future designs are being studied utilizing nuclear energy. But doctor Eugen Sanger from research institute in Stuttgart is even working on a photon rocket. He hopes to use only light to reach far galaxies.

    Today one can already talk about the theoretical principles behind the rocket and plan the flights of the future. But it is not possible to answer to questions of if and when will such a device be made.

    Chemical rockets are unsuited for space travel. The speed of rocket depends from the speed of gas it throws out. Chemical rockets give speeds of 3.5 km/s, nuclear energy allows to reach tens of thousands km/s, but photon rocket will move at speeds close to c. The nuclear light-bulb proposed by Sanger will serve as the engine.

    Such light-bulb exists only in plans, but already one can judge its uses in space travel.

    The nuclear fuel will be turned into light and only minuscule quantity will be wasted in form of heat energy.

    The photon rocket will travel to distant planets accelerating for half the distance at 10 m/s^2 and turn around to deaccelerate at the same rate for the other half. So the engine will work constantly thereby eliminating the the extensive (98% of time) periods of weightlessness that accompany flights powered by conventional rockets

    Not all planets are habitable. In Solar system, Venus, Earth, Mars are in the right distance form star.

    Whit photon rocket astronauts could travel to those planets quickly.

    With photon rocket, taking human lifespan into account, astronauts would be able to travel to anywhere in 5 parsec radii from the Sun, yielding 42 visitable star systems. Sirius A is of special interest.

    Further travels will be made form newly colonised star systems as starting points.

    The last column seems to talk about unrelated possibility of extraterrestrial life or something to that affect. At that point I got tired of trying to understand the text and just skimmed it though.

    The diagram suggests that the proposed engine works by annihilating matter with anti-matter.
    Labels starting from the aft:
    ‘The point of annihilation’
    ‘accelerator of anti-particles’ / ‘accelerator of particles’
    ‘stock of fuel’
    ‘biol protection’ I guess meaning the shield for protecting biological life
    ‘people, equipment’

    • Pat Flannery

      If you’re going to drive that thing at any great acceleration by photons, that aft reflector dish is going to get so hot so fast that it’s going to need active liquid helium cooling and be built of superconducting materials just to keep it from vaporizing in a few milliseconds.
      My God, imagine what the thing would look like in flight! It would look like it had a supernova following it around when seen from near Earth as it moved out, and a radiation flux that could wipe out life on planets it came anywhere near.
      You could probably see it from around a light-year away with a good telescope. 😀

      • admin

        > imagine what the thing would look like in flight

        Sanger described the effects of the drive “beam” for various distances behind it. For a particular engine output with a cone of ten degrees, I recall that no known reflective material could survive within six miles, and that anything remotely organic would be charred and evaporated at a range of something like 300 miles.

        • Pat Flannery

          Funny, and antimatter is so easy to use on Star Trek. 🙂
          I still like the Romulan energy producing system, where you trickle matter into a tiny black hole.
          That explains why their ships are so maneuverable; you use either a magnetic field or a tractor beam to spin the whole ship around the black hole, using its mass as a counterweight to the ship.
          Sooner or later though the mass and size of the black hole is going to grow to the point where it will need to be replaced, and what they do with the old ones is a good question… probably coyly drop them on planets in the Klingon Empire while cloaked, and wait for them to settle in their cores and collapse the whole planet.

          • admin

            > Sooner or later though the mass and size of the black hole is going to grow to the point where it will need to be replaced

            Ummm… no. While I’m fuzzy on the specifics of Romulan black hole power systems, theorized *real* *world* black hole based power systems involved dumping matter in at the same rate that energy is being emitted via Hawking radiation. It would be an atom-sized little nugget with the mass of an asteroid blasting out gamma rays like a miniature sun; left on its own, it would soon have blown out so much mass that it would drop down to Plank scale and would explode. IIRC, the lifespan before explosion would be on the order of months for a usefully-sized black hole.

            So if your Romulan ship craps out for some reason and stops dumping matter into its black hole, the ship would soon melt. If it didn’t collapse into the black hole – feeding it mass – within a year or so it would explode.

            The big problem with black hole powerplants like this – apart from the difficulty in manufacturing a black hole like this (I got a kick out of the massive gamma ray laser BH generator concept… straightforward, but engineering on a truly vast scale) – would be in actually feeding it mass fast enough. At the size of an atom, it’s simply too small to swallow mass fast enough

  • admin

    Thanks, everyone! So it’s Sanger’s antimatter propulsion system.

    FYI: The “photon rocket” worked by the annihilation of matter and antimatter, producing an exhaust composed of light and a few charged particles. Unfortunately, the “light” in question would actually be gamma rays, which are not usefully reflected by normal matter, but rather absorbed. So there are two ways of dealing with it:
    1) Let the gamma rays wander off randomly as “waste,” and use a magnetic nozzle to direct the charged particles as your exhaust. Doable, but low thrust and low efficiency.
    2) Use the gamma rays.

    There are two ways to use the gamma rays:
    A) Absorb them, then re-radiate them at a lower frequency. If they are absorbed by a block of tungsten, say, the gamma rays will heat up the block until the block glows. The glow will be a spectrum, from UV through visible light to IR. These frequencies can be reflected with a parabolic mirror. However, even the most reflective conventional materials are not really quite reflective enough, and would absorb a noticeable percentage of the light and would need active cooling.
    B) Reflect the gamma rays directly with an exotic mirror. Sanger suggested that such a mirror could be made from a pure “electron gas,” which is just what it sounds like… a cloud of free electrons. Of course, electrons really don’t like forming into compact clouds, never mind concave *parabolic* clouds. The pressure in the cloud would be approximately the same as that in the heart of an exploding H-Bomb.

    So… a little tricky.

    • Pat Flannery

      You know, making a mirror out of an “Electron Gas” makes shooting oil all over the surface of the Orion’s steel driver plate evenly look like something you could come up with in your basement by early next week.
      Once again, I am seeing Sanger’s “110% efficient'” rocket engine for the Antipodal Bomber.
      He lived too early; he and the Reaction Engine’s “Skylon” project were made for each other. 😀

      • admin

        >shooting oil all over the surface of the Orion’s steel driver plate evenly …

        A fairly simple task, in fact, at least when in the vacuum of space.

  • I am from Russia.
    The text of this article on the famous Russian web site: