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The ramjet in the novel "Tau Zero" required a separate decelerator which, spoilers, breaks, and causes the ship to career endlessly through the universe. Is this accurate from a real-world engineering standpoint? Could they not simply have adjusted the collector to reduce the efficiency and tip the balance between thrust and drag?

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  • $\begingroup$ Are you talking about the Poul Anderson novel? $\endgroup$ – Ben Crowell Jun 26 '17 at 16:18
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah...I cleaned up the question to make it a little clearer. $\endgroup$ – Chris B. Behrens Jun 26 '17 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ The studies of the balance between thrust and drag are from 1985, the book is from 1970 and Bussard concept from 1960. Lots of things are known today that werent when Bussard proposed it and even later when the book was written. $\endgroup$ – Polygnome Jun 26 '17 at 20:49
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I'm asking for the best current state of reality as we understand it, as opposed to the in universe science fiction. $\endgroup$ – Chris B. Behrens Jun 26 '17 at 21:06
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    $\begingroup$ If you'd like to expand on that inn an answer, @Organic Marble, that sounds like it would probably be a good candidate. $\endgroup$ – Chris B. Behrens Jun 26 '17 at 23:18
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This makes me sad because I grew up reading Niven's novels about ramscoops, but as early as 1978 T. A. Heppenheimer showed that the power required to compress protons enough to fuse exceeds the power that can be produced. Other reactions have been proposed but they have problems as well. There is a good writeup here: https://www.centauri-dreams.org/?p=22274

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  • $\begingroup$ So, in essence, the ramjet is a crappy solar sail 😎 $\endgroup$ – Chris B. Behrens Jun 27 '17 at 3:19
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisB.Behrens: Yes. OTOH the idea isn't completely junk. It just needs to be adjusted for actual power requirements, with power deficit supplemented externally. $\endgroup$ – SF. Jun 27 '17 at 6:42
  • $\begingroup$ I think the external supplementation pretty much kills worth of the idea. But there's still the hope of a different fusion method, or maybe the laser ionization jazz. $\endgroup$ – Chris B. Behrens Jun 28 '17 at 19:01

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