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Long: Toward an Interstellar Institute

Today we continue with responses to the Request for Information from the 100 Year Starship study. Kelvin Long is senior designer and co-founder of Project Icarus, the ambitious attempt to design a fusion starship. A joint project of the British Interplanetary Society and the Tau Zero Foundation, Project Icarus takes its inspiration from the original Project Daedalus, updating and extending it with new thinking and new technologies. Here Kelvin considers how a research organization tasked with developing something as ambitious as a starship can function and prosper. And he would have considerable insight into the matter — as a Project Icarus consultant, I’ve never seen so dedicated and energetic a team as the one he put together. Its final report will be an essential work in interstellar propulsion studies.

Kelvin Long completed his Bachelors degree in Aerospace Engineering and Masters degree in Astrophysics at Queen Mary College, University of London. He is a Fellow of The British Interplanetary Society, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, Member of the American Institute Aeronautics & Astronautics, a Chartered Physicist and a Practitioner of The Tau Zero Foundation. He has published numerous articles and papers on various aspects of space travel. His Ph.D work is on the topic of Inertial Confinement Fusion, a key player in both the Daedalus and Icarus designs.

Project Icarus/TZF
A Personal Response to DARPA-SN-11- 41 RFI
100 Year StarshipTM Study

Kelvin F Long 1
BEng Msc CPhys FBIS FRAS MAIAA
Icarus Interstellar & Tau Zero Foundation (non-profits)

Abstract

This is a response to the DARPA solicitation requesting information for the 100 Year Starship Study. Preliminary ideas for a (long term) research model and Interstellar Institute for Aerospace Research (IIAR) are presented. The views expressed in this document represent the authors only and not the official views of Icarus Interstellar or the Tau Zero Foundation. This paper is a submission of the Project Icarus Study Group.

1 Introduction

The ambition of interstellar flight has been the subject of many science fiction novels [1-3] and continues to inspire a large number of academic papers and books [4-9]. Despite this interest, it has generally been the public belief that interstellar flight is speculative engineering. In 1969 man landed on the Moon, but before that stupendous achievement could be realized it had to first be demonstrated that such a thing was possible. Hence in the 1930s members of the British Interplanetary Society (BIS) undertook a study for a Lunar Lander [10], presenting the first such engineering concept and moving the subject from speculative fiction to credible engineering. Similarly, before the first interstellar probe can be launched it must first be demonstrated that such a thing is feasible. In the year 2033 the BIS will have reached its 100th anniversary and its Journal, JBIS, has been the home of visionary thinking since its first publication in 1934 – it is the oldest astronautical Journal in the world [11]. Members of the BIS were also the first in history to publish an academic paper on the subject of interstellar flight [12] and in the 1970s members pioneered the future by the design of a theoretical Starship called Project Daedalus [13]. Using an inertial confined fusion based propulsion system the probe would reach its stellar target in around half a century. Project Icarus was founded in 2009 and is an international project to redesign the Daedalus vehicle with modern knowledge as a ‘designer capability’ exercise [14]. An international team has been assembled and is hard at work on the calculations in a (volunteer) capacity. All of the above demonstrates that the “First Steps” towards the stars have already been made in advance of the DARPA RFI. The “Second Step” (for DARPA, TZF or others) is to bring this research together into a century long co-ordinated program. In reality, the first interstellar probe launch is likely at best one to two centuries away as has been consistently demonstrated [15-18]. To launch even an unmanned interstellar probe in advance of the year 2100 would likely require significant and sustained technology investments several times greater than those of today [19].

The means by which the first interstellar probe is to be propelled remains a matter of discussion awaiting technological breakthroughs. Although some clear contenders have emerged in recent decades, from external nuclear pulse [20], to fusion engines [21], to sail beaming systems [22-24]. Other more exotic alternatives includes antimatter based systems [25] or the use of interstellar ramjets [26] which requires no on vehicle propellant. One aspect that could changes all this is the discovery of a breakthrough method of propulsion physics such as proposed for the famed warp drive of science fiction, now the subject of rigorous metric engineering using the tools of General Relativity and Quantum Field Theory [27-29]. The potential for such propulsion systems (as well as others) and how to manage such research has been well studied by others [30-31]. The launch of human based Starships will require massive engineering and therefore large infrastructure requirements, as evidenced by studies of Worlds Ships [32-33], placing it many centuries into the future. Other than Project Orion and Project Daedalus, various vehicle design studies have been undertaken historically that are relevant to the design of a Starship, to differing degrees of engineering accuracy. This includes VISTA [34], AIMStar [35] and the student study LONGSHOT [36], for example.

How can the pace of interstellar research be accelerated so as to facilitate an earlier launch window? One method is to think about the interstellar roadmap by planning interstellar precursor missions which go to 200 AU, 1000 AU and beyond. Several such proposals have been made over the years [37-40]. What makes such proposals feasible (as well as the full interstellar missions) is consistency with the Technology Readiness Levels [41]. These are the guiding tool for all aerospace development even at national space agencies [42] and the emphasis for bringing about an interstellar mission must be to encourage and facilitate research into low TRL (~1-3) propulsion schemes and other technologies. An approach for the planning of visionary technology development programmes, the Horizon Mission Methodology, has been constructed and is an ideal tool for this purpose [43]. Although in past generations significant (largely theoretical) progress has been made towards the eventual launch of the first interstellar mission, this research has been largely uncoordinated, unfocussed and performed by volunteers. If the first launch of an interstellar probe is indeed to take place in the next two centuries, then what is required is a change of strategy to include a significant investment program and the formation of an Interstellar Institute for Aerospace Research (IIAR). The proposal for an Interstellar Institute has also been made by the former NASA physicist and current President of the Tau Zero Foundation Marc Millis, in private communication, and this is one of the long term aspirations of the Foundation.

An Interstellar Institute would coordinate research relating to all aspects of an interstellar mission, from the manufacturing and assembly, launch and construction, fuel generation or acquisition, to communications and science monitoring. Such a body should also encourage research spanning the range of propulsion options. By not closing off any options today each method progressives incrementally until a front runner clearly emerges – ad astra incrementis. The Institute logo spells out the letters of the name. The trajectory of a spacecraft is shown, passing three stars which get progressively larger, emphasising that with incremental steps the stars will get closer. The spacecraft exceeds the position of the stars and continues out into the galaxy showing that with visionary (but credible) goals anything is possible. The Institutes motto would be along the lines “Leading Astronautical Research to the Stars”, emphasising academic rigour in all studies.

2 Research Model

In this document we describe an optimistic (long term) vision for an Interstellar Institute manned by permanent staff, hosting resident academics and assuming the support of wealthy philanthropist(s) to get it started (but not to sustain it). If there were an Interstellar Institute this would attract academics from around the world to come together for weeks or months at a time to jointly work on some of the major technical issues or explore a new area of physics where a fundamental breakthrough in our understanding may come. Design teams could also be assembled to work on specific problems, such as: development of technology for the unfurling of a solar sail in deep space; engineering an interstellar ramjet; reducing the negative energy requirements of a warp drive; or finding ways of mining Helium-3 from the gas giants in a cost effective way. The basis of all research will be to improve the Technology Readiness Levels of a diverse range of spacecraft technologies, particularly pertaining to propulsion. It would also be the location for a major conference and would act as the international focus point for all interstellar related research. This is what we need to make interstellar research move substantially forward and allow innovative ideas to emerge and be applied efficiently to the progression of the subject. It needs to be moved from the volunteer sidelines of science, given some major investment, and an institute to focus the research and provide an exciting atmosphere where an optimistic vision for space exploration exists. The Aim, Vision and Mission of the Institute are described as follows:

  • Aim : To co-ordinate and facilitate international research excellence towards solving the engineering and physics obstacles associated with interstellar flight and to spur technological breakthroughs.
  • Vision : To encourage robotic and human missions to the stars in the coming centuries.
  • Mission : [1] To be proactive in co-coordinating international research associated with international flight and to demonstrate research leadership in the field of astronautics [2] To conduct outstanding educational activities to better communicate to the public the importance and the credible feasibility of interstellar flight [3] To work towards an agreed set of short, medium and long terms goals that are consistent with the Institutes optimistic vision for interstellar flight.

2.1 Organizational Governance & Finance Model

A non-profit organization manned largely by volunteers does not have the man power or resources to undertake a large scale research program greater than 10s of people. A business does have this capacity but is subject to risks associated with financial markets and competition. Government can protect itself against risk and can manage large scale programs; however, inherent bureaucracy, micro-management and leadership changes due to changing political policies create an environment that is unstable, costly (usually measured in billions of dollars) and over time become less flexible to positive innovation and change. The best strategy therefore is to combine the best of all three structures whilst throwing away the worst parts.

The cost of the Institute construction is expected to be of order ~$30-50 million. The cost of the initial research investment program is expected to be of order ~$100 million. Annual funding programs of order ~$10-20 million per year are expected until self-revenue generation emerges. In essence the Institute is a non-profit research body, more similar to a University rather than an industrial company, which specialises in research and academic educational programmes in physics and engineering relating to deep space missions.

The Interstellar Institute would be founded around the year 2020, allowing time for sufficient planning and construction work. The initial start fund program to begin the planning stage is of order several hundred thousand dollars, consistent with the DARPA RFI. The funding structure is described in the diagram above, with innovative technologies leading to patents and new engineering products for space. The organisation that comes closest to this model is the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, which was founded in 1999 by Mike Lazaridis who owns the Blackberry Company. New Scientist has said of PI: “…what may be the most ambitious intellectual experiment on Earth” [44]. The Interstellar Institute can exceed this by reaching for new heights in intellectual leadership and turning the energies of international groups of volunteers into a coordinated research programme that is focused on the launch of the first interstellar probe in this century or the next.

2.2 Organizational Structure

The Institute would be an independent non-profit organized with a Technical Advisory Committee acting as the Board of Directors to oversee all activities. A core membership would support the non-profit status. The core of its work program consists of three elements:

1. Theoretical research to produce breakthrough solutions to problems in physics and engineering relating to deep space missions utilizing a variety of propulsion systems and technologies, including concept development for real spacecraft designs.

2. Education to bring about a greater awareness of the viability for future interstellar missions and how they might impact our cultural and technological growth.

3. Public outreach to communicate the vision and feasibility of interstellar travel and inspire the world that such a vision is essential to a secure and peaceful future for the human race in space.

Additionally, the Institute may undertake the following two activities:

1. Laboratory based experiments to improve the Technology Readiness Levels of key systems and sub-systems likely required for a deep space mission.

2. Contributions to actual space missions by development of a sub-system that would be required for a deep space mission.

The majority of the work undertaken by the Institute is expected to be theoretically based (~70%), performed by the visiting academics, with perhaps a minor element (~10%) dedicated to actual laboratory and space environment mission development. The remainder of the program will be dedicated to education and public outreach (~20%). Typically the Institute would consist of around 30 administrative and facility staff, 20 research co-coordinators and around 150-200 resident researchers, of which two thirds would be visiting. All staff will be designated Support, Management, Resident Researcher or Visiting Researcher. Additionally, non-academics/non- professionals (common in this field) who has showing a grasp of the technical issues may also become visiting residents, awarded on a grant basis, regardless of background.

The educational program would consist of regular symposia and conferences in a lively and dynamic research atmosphere. The highlight would be a bi-annual Conference for Interstellar Flight, reviewing the latest research in the field. One aspect of the outstanding educational program would be an annual summer residential course, taught by a combination of permanent and visiting residents. The course will lead to a Postgraduate Certificate in Interstellar Engineering, to be awarded by a local University with their co-operation and involvement. The syllabus would cover all aspects of spacecraft design technology and mission performance; from communications to structure and materials to propulsion. Orbital mechanics and trajectory analysis would also be included, as well as basic planetary and solar physics science. There is also the potential for creating a full Masters program in Interstellar Engineering, to include a design project, as part of a summer school attended twice in succession. Doctoral research programs may also be possible. The Institute is to be a world leader in the implementation of the latest technologies in the everyday activities of its residents with many symposia and conferences transmitted live to the World Wide Web. On occasions the entrance lounge of the Institute can be easily turned into a banquet hall for conference dinners whilst listening to some cultural music. The entrance hall would also be an exhibition arena showcasing either the latest technologies or artwork which helps us to understand the challenges of humans in space.

The Institute governing structure is now defined.

- Institute Executive: Director Institute; Deputy Director; Executive Committee (Division Heads + selected volunteer external advisors).

- Division of Research Management: Division Head; Deputy Division Head; Building Management; Office Administration; Publications & Media; Building Maintenance (facilities, structure, gardening, health & safety); Business & Finance; Human Resources, Business Marketing & Finance; Archives & Exhibition (museum, library); Catering Facilities; IT Services (maintaining on site computers, networks and supercomputing clusters); Office of Future Developments (expansion of Institute); Office of International Research Co- ordination (co-coordinating residents/sabbaticals); Office of Space Mission Liaison (co- coordinating interactions with commercial/agency spacecraft missions); Office of Laboratory Research (management of on site laboratories or test technology).

- Division of Science & Technology: Division Head; Senior Advisory Committee; Leader Instruments & Payload Group; Leader Computing & Electronics Group; Leader Power Systems & Thermal Control Group; Leader Structure & Materials Group; Leader Risk, Reliability & Spacecraft Protection Group; Leader Space Infrastructure & Vehicle Assembly Group; Leader Space Communications, Navigation & Guidance Control Group; Leader Astronomy & Exploration Group; Leader Human Colonization.

- Division of Reacting Engines: Division Head; Senior Advisory Committee; Chemical Propulsion Group; Electric Propulsion Group; Nuclear Fission Group; Nuclear Fusion Group; Antimatter propulsion Group; Advanced Particles & Fields Group.

- Division of Propellantless Propulsion: Division Head; Senior Advisory Committee; Solar & Microwave Sails Group; Particle Beams Group; Interstellar Ramjets Group; Mass Drivers Group.

- Division of Breakthrough Physics: Division Head; Senior Advisory Committee; Leader Space Drives Group (dean drive, disjunction drive); Leader Metric Engineering Group (warp drive, black holes, worm holes); Leader Particle & Information Transmission (teleportation, tachyons).

3 The Interstellar Institute for Aerospace Research

The building for the Interstellar Institute should be visionary, futuristic and visually stimulating. One example for such a building would be the use of a pyramid shaped structure, a symbol of permanence and the need for long term planning in enduring programmes. It would be constructed of glass with layers of solar panels to supply the electrical energy for the building. Inside would be the building itself, constructed in stages analogous to the stages of a rocket. The ground floor level would contain the main conference hall, cafeteria, open air library, exhibition space and perhaps a Japanese garden. The higher levels would contain smaller conference rooms and offices for permanent and visiting residents working on the problems of interstellar flight. At the top of the building is the observational Skydome, shaped to represent an interstellar payload on top of each engine stage. The Skydome is maintained to low light levels, to allow visualization of the stars at night. Some moderate telescopes are permanently in place for the enjoyment of the visitors. The total floor area inside the pyramid is around 10,000 square meters, being 100 m on each side. The Institute would become the worlds leading centre for research into interstellar flight, promoting research excellence and stimulating scientific breakthroughs. The institute is to be a place of positive inspiration, where the best of humanity comes together to focus on solving the obstacles to the launch of the first interstellar mission.

On the very apex of the building is a high gain radio antenna for the sending and receiving of deep space signals for participation in some monitoring programs. On the first level is the main conference room capable of holding up to 300 people, using modern electronic visualization tools. On the second level is another, but smaller, conference room capable of holding up to 100 people. Small meeting rooms are included on the third and fourth level to hold up to 20 people. Each of the levels has a small balcony and railing which comes off of each office, providing for pleasant views over the arena and Japanese garden. In the middle of the third to fifth floor is a hollow opening allowing windows across the way. At the rear of the building (external to the pyramid) is a small observatory to be used for exoplanet observations to help determine the first astronomical mission target, focussed on stars within 20 light years. Entrance to this is enabled through the Japanese garden which is also a bird atrium. The overall design objective of the building is to inspire the designers, providing for a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere whilst being an innovative design using parallels with engineering technology from interstellar spacecraft designs.

References

[1] Anderson, P, “Tau Zero”, Orion Books, 1970.
[2] Niven, L & J.Pournelle, “The Mote in God’s Eye”, Simon & Schuster, 1974.
[3] Clarke, A.C, “Rendezvous with Rama”, Gollancz, 1973.
[4] Spencer, D.F et al., “Feasibility of Interstellar Travel”, Acta Astronautica, 9, pp.49-58, 1963. [5] Forward, R.L, “A Program for Interstellar Exploration”, JBIS, 29, pp.611-632, 1976.
[6] Gilster, P, “Centauri Dreams, Imagining & Planning Interstellar Exploration”, Springer, 2004.
[7] Matloff, G.L & E.Mallove, “The Starflight Handbook, A Pioneers Guide to Interstellar Travel”, Wiley, 1989.
[8] Long, K.F, “Fusion, Antimatter & the Space Drive: Charting a Path to the Stars”, JBIS, 62, pp.89-98.
[9] Long, K.F, “Deep Space Propulsion: The Roadmap to Interstellar Flight” (book), Springer, Publication Pending
2011.
[10] Ross, H.E, “The BIS Space Ship”, JBIS, 5, 1939.
[11] Parkinson, R, “Interplanetary, A History of the British Interplanetary Society”, BIS Publication, 2008.
[12] Shepherd, L.R, “Interstellar Flight”, JBIS, 11, 1952.
[13] Bond, A & A.R.Martin, “Project Daedalus – Final Report”, JBIS Special Supplement, 1978.
[14] Long K.F., Obousy R.K., Tziolas A.C, Mann A, Osborne R, Presby A, Fogg M, “Project Icarus: Son of Daedalus – Flying Closer to Another Star”, JBIS, Vol. 62 No. 11/12, pp. 403-416, Nov/Dec 2009.
[15] Dyson, F, “Interstellar Transport”, Physics Today, 68, 41-45, 1968.
[16] Cassenti, B.N, “A Comparison of Interstellar Propulsion Methods”, JBIS, 35, pp.116-124, 1982.
[17] Millis, M.G, “First Interstellar Missions, Considering Energy and Incessant Obsolescence”, JBIS, Publication Pending, 2011.
[18] Baxter, S, “Project Icarus: Three Roads to the Stars”, JBIS, Publication Pending, 2011.
[19] Long, K.F, “Project Icarus: The First Unmanned Interstellar Mission, Robotic Expansion & Technological Growth”, JBIS, Publication Pending, 2011.
[20] Dyson, G, “Project Orion – The Atomic Spaceship 1957-1965”, The Penguin Press, 2002.
[21] Long, K.F, R.K.Obousy & A.Hein, “Project Icarus: Optimization of Nuclear Fusion Propulsion for Interstellar Missions”, Acta Astronautica, 68, pp.1820-1829, 2011.
[22] Forward, R.L, “Starwisp: An Ultra-Light Interstellar Probe”, Journal of Spacecraft & Rockets, 22, pp.345-350, 1985.
[23] Landis, G.A, “Beamed Energy Propulsion for Practical Interstellar Flight”, JBIS, 52, 1999.
[24] Benford, G & J.Benford et al., “Power-Beaming Concepts for Future Deep Space Exploration”, JBIS, 59, 2006.
[25] Cassenti, B.N, “Design Considerations for Relativistic Antimatter Rockets”, JBIS, 35, pp.396-404.
[26] Bussard, R.W, “Galactic Matter and Interstellar Flight”, Acta Astronautica, 16, Fasc4, 1960.
[27] Alcubierre, A, “The Warp Drive: Hyper-Fast Travel within General Relativity”, Class.Quantum Grav, 11, L73-L77, 1994.
[28] Long, K.F, “The Status of the Warp Drive”, JBIS, 61, PP.347-352, 2008.
[29] Obousy, R .K & R.Cleaver, “Warp Drive: A New Approach”, JBIS, 61, pp.364-369, 2008.
[30] Millis, M, “Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Research Program”, NASA TM-107381, 1996.
[31] Millis, M & E.W.Davis, “Frontiers of Propulsion Science”, Progress in Astronautics & Aeronautics, 227, AIAA, 2009.
[32] Bond, A & A.R.Martin, “World Ships – An Assessment of the Engineering Feasibility”, JBIS, 37, 6, 1984.
[33] Martin, A.R, “World Ships – Concept, Cause, Cost, Construction & Colonization”, JBIS, 37, 6, 1984.
[34] Orth, C.D, “Parameter Studies for the VISTA Spacecraft Concept”, UCRL-JC-141513, 2000.
[35] Gaidos, G et al., “AIMStar: Antimatter Initiated Microfusion for Pre-cursor Interstellar Missions”, Acta Astronautica, 44, 2-4, pp.183-186, 1999.
[36] Beals, K.A et al., “Project LONGSHOT, An Unmanned Probe to Alpha Centauri”, N89-16904, 1988.
[37] Jaffe, L.D et al., “An Interstellar Precursor Mission”, JBIS, 33, pp.3-26, 1980.
[38] McNutt, R.L, Jr, “Interstellar Probe”, White Paper for US Heliophysics Decadal Survey, 2010.
[39] Long, K.F & R.Obousy, “Starships of the Future, The Challenge of Interstellar Flight”, Spaceflight, 53, 4, 2011.
[40] Maccone, C, “FOCAL – Probe to 550 or 1000 AU: A Status Review”, JBIS, 61, pp.310-314, 2008.
[41] Mankins, J.C, “Technology Readiness Levels”, A White Paper, NASA, 1995.
[42] Schmidt, GR & M.J.Patterson, “In-Space Propulsion Technologies for the Flexible Path Exploration Strategy”, Presented 61st IAC Prague, IAC-10.C4.6.2, 2010.
[43] Anderson, J.L, “Leaps of the Imagination: Interstellar Flight and the Horizon Mission Methodology”, JBIS, 49, pp.15-20, 1996.
[44] “Building on Success – Five year Plan”, Perimeter (PI) Institute for Theoretical Physics, 2009.

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Notes:

  1. Note that the author is a British National based in the United Kingdom.

This article was originally posted on Centauri Dreams