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The wash should always be moving faster than the ship in the direction the ship was moving.
I can't see how any exhaust from the acceleration phase can catch up with the craft when it starts decelerating because in a reaction engine powered craft, it's speed cannot exceed that of it's exhaust.
Doesn't the idea of a conical beam (second post in the thread) solve the problem of running into propellant?
DaveshortsI take your point about lost mass. However, if you are generating energy using a fuel, nuclear or otherwise, there is bound to be some waste product which can't be worth keeping. Why can't it be ejected as the propellant? It may be just a matter of the 'numbers' but the sums would need to be done to get it right.
A huge fishing net out at the front, perhaps? It would have to be very big and very strong to prevent debris punching holes through it. In deep space we would only get 1 proton per m cubed.