March 01, 2013

Icarus Interstellar Fusion and Beamed Propulsion Starship Studies and Eight other Projects

Project Icarus President Richard Obousy gave an overview of the projects and work of the Icarus interstellar starship studies to the Centuari Dreams website.

Project Icarus is an engineering challenge and designer capability exercise to design an unmanned fusion based, interstellar starship capable of exploring a star system within 15 light-years. The total mission duration is limited to a maximum of 100 years from launch. This study started in September 2009 and is being conducted by an international team of volunteer physicists, engineers, and other suitably qualified people.

Project Forward, Beamed Propulsion Starship Study

Project Forward, led by Dr. Jim Benford, is a parallel study performed by members of Icarus Interstellar and affiliated organizations with expertise in the field of beamed propulsion. The study involves:

1) Analyzing past concepts to see if they are off-optimal, in terms of the recent cost-optimized model, so can be improved. Then quantify such improved sail system concepts.

2) Exploring properties of materials that are being used for solar sails or have been suggested for beam-powered sails to determine their practicality. In particular, studying their properties in several domains of EM (microwave, millimeter wave, laser) to find out what accelerations they are limited to due to heating in the beam.

3) Quantifying an alternate use of sails-deceleration of sail probes from a fusion-powered starship as it approaches stellar systems.

Project Hyperion, Human Interstellar Flight Study

Most studies of interstellar craft focus on vessels that are unmanned. This is because the task of starship construction is considered sufficiently challenging without the additional complexity of creating an environment where humans could survive for decades or even centuries.

Project Hyperion, led by Andreas Hein, tackles this specific challenge head on is performing a preliminary study that defines concepts for a crewed interstellar starship. Major areas of study include propulsion, environmental control, life support, social studies related to crewed multi-decadal/multi-century missions, habitat studies, communications, psychology of deep spaceflight, mission objectives, and the ethics of sending humans to the stars.

Project Persephone, Living Architectures for Worldships

Project Persephone, led by TED Fellow Dr. Rachel Armstrong is considering the application of living technologies such a protocells and programmable smart chemistries, in the context of habitable starship architecture that can respond and evolve according to the needs of its inhabitants.

This project has direct relevance to the challenges of the 21-century where our megacities & urban environments will grow at astonishing rates. Yet the building industry, utilities and energy companies necessarily lag behind the physical demands of a growing city and where inflexible infrastructures become inadequate or inappropriate then urban decay sets in with crime, homelessness, waste & resource management issues, traffic congestion etc. A habitable long duration starship will need evolvable environments that not only use resources efficiently but can respond quickly to the needs of populations and bypass the current necessary time lags that are implicit in the current system – in identifying critical upgrades and then activating industrial supply and procurement chains – which are already playing catch-up by the time they are realized.

Project Bifrost. Emerging Nuclear Space Technologies Project

The Icarus NST Program led by Tabitha Smith has the long-term goals of tangible NST deliverables such as (1) The creation of RTGs, (2) Creation of Nuclear Engines (Thermal and/or Electric) and (3) Partnership with the US Government for Pulsed Nuclear Propulsion use for Starship.

The Helius Experiment, Experimental Starship Systems Research

The Helius Experiment, led by Rob Swinney, has the objective of conducting small scale experimental research on systems integral to the development of interstellar spacecraft. Some specific objectives are to develop engineering designs and small scale pulsed propulsion prototypes, optical systems used in beamed propulsion, radiators and other heat rejection methods simulating the rejection of megawatt power systems to be used for interstellar travel.

Project Tin Tin, Interstellar NanoSat Research and Development

Tin Tin, led by Dr. Andreas Tziolas, is conducting design, research and experimental studies relating to the use of nanosats for interstellar exploration, including modular interstellar systems testing. Project Tin Tin is a collaborative effort between the Kickstart program, Team Phoenicia, The British Interplanetary Society and Icarus Interstellar.

X-Physics Propulsion & Power Project (XP4)

XP4, led by myself, is a group organized to explore deep future propulsion and energy generation concepts including, but not limited to, the manipulation of spacetime (warp drive/wormhole metrics) and the exploration of the quantum vacuum as a possible energy source.

Longshot II, Student Research Project

Longshot II, led by students Divya Shankar and Tiffany Frierson is a revisit of the 1987 Project Longshot unmanned interstellar probe mission conducted by NASA sponsored summer graduate students. Our Icarus Interstellar student designers are currently revisiting the project, correcting mistakes, incorporating omissions and updating the technology to the current state of the art.

Broader Activities

These ten project form the core of Icarus Interstellar. As a 100% volunteer organization we rely on the initiative and dedication of unpaid members so the productivity of the group typically rises and falls in relation to how busy people’s ‘days jobs’ are keeping them. With that said, I’ve been thrilled with the progress that each of these projects is making and amazed at just how much measurable work comes from a relatively small core of dedicated enthusiasts.

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