Report on the Project Icarus Symposium

by Paul Gilster on November 9, 2009

by Pat Galea

The Tau Zero Foundation has been working with the British Interplanetary Society on Project Icarus, a starship study that updates the famous Project Daedalus work from the 1970s. Pat Galea, a software engineer with a lively interest in the physics of interstellar flight, attended the recent symposium that launched the project, and here provides us with a report that I will publish in two parts, concluding tomorrow.

Just over thirty years ago, British Interplanetary Society (BIS) members carried out one of the most complete studies of an interstellar vehicle ever made. Even today, Project Daedalus retains its status as an outstandingly comprehensive reference design. Its final report sits on the shelf of many a starship enthusiast.

In the intervening years, technology and science have advanced in many of the areas that are crucial to the Daedalus mission plan and design. The time has come to re-examine Daedalus in light of the progress that has been made, so Kelvin Long and Ian Crawford organized a one-day symposium held at BIS headquarters in London, UK, on 30 September 2009. This meeting gathered experts on the subject areas to be examined, as well as some of the original Daedalus team, not only to look at the original design, but also to launch Project Icarus, a new project that will produce an updated interstellar craft design.

The Need for Infrastructure

icarus_logo_2

The Daedalus craft at launch has a mass of 54,000 tons; most of that is fuel. Building and fueling this thing is, to say the least, an immense undertaking. Daedalus would require an enormous amount of infrastructure in place before it could be built and launched. Rather than build this all up solely for producing interstellar craft, we could (and probably would) have most of this capacity in place for supporting interplanetary transport. Bob Parkinson gave a presentation on the use of Daedalus-type vehicles for vehicles that can shuttle around our solar system on missions such as Mars colonization, asteroid diversion, and fast transit missions to the outer planets.

Image: Project Icarus logo by Alexandre Szames.

Daedalus calls for a fusion pulse engine, in which high-energy electron beams are fired at pellets containing Deuterium (D) and Helium-3 (He3), causing them to undergo nuclear fusion, and releasing a huge amount of energy. Some of this energy is captured by the craft, and the subsequent release of energy from this capture propels the ship forward. The Daedalus plan requires a system for obtaining the He3 from the atmosphere of Jupiter. This is, indeed, a big engineering challenge, but as Parkinson pointed out, with a fleet of vehicles being used for local transport anyway, we are only worrying about the marginal cost of producing the extra fuel required for the interstellar probe.

Parkinson presented some background on the Jovian extraction process, and examined some other options that have been suggested. One possibility is to extract He3 from the lunar regolith. Unfortunately, it appears that while this is technically possible, the huge energy required to extract meager amounts of He3 from immense masses of regolith renders the process economically unfeasible. In brief, the Jupiter mining system is still the preferred option for fueling Daedalus.

Daedalus_Jupiter_1l

Propulsion Choices and Supporting Technologies

Other nuclear reactions, not involving He3, are possible candidates. The reason the original team chose the D/He3 reaction is that it is relatively clean, producing very few neutrons. We prefer to have charged particles coming from the reaction as we can ‘bend’ the path of these using electromagnetic fields. Uncharged neutrons are a nuisance, hitting the craft and causing structural damage over time. Other reactions can have different advantages, however, such as being easier to initiate, so the case is far from closed.

Image: Daedalus prior to departure, in orbit around Europa. Credit: Adrian Mann.

Richard Osborne considered other aspects of the infrastructure question. While we cannot know the details of the systems that will be in place at the time a Daedalus-like craft is launched, we can sketch out the types of systems that will be required for launch and assembly of these probes. Osborne drew a high-level picture of the process as a whole, and broke it down into its constituent elements. For example, a Single-Stage-To-Orbit (SSTO) vehicle will be essential for launching components from Earth, and a space dockyard is needed for assembling the craft (and presumably building other local transport vehicles). Overall, we were seeing from Osborne effectively a first draft plan for industrializing our solar system.

Astrobiology and the Need to Linger

Ian Crawford explored the planetary science and astrobiology case for pursuing interstellar flight. He explained the concept of habitable zones (those areas around stars that are suitable for life), and discussed the kinds of planets that can support life. In our own solar system, we have expanded our view of the candidates for habitability over the last thirty years. It is quite common these days to read discussions of the potential for life being found in moons of the gas giants, and in even more exotic locations. Crawford discussed the kinds of chemical signatures that we might look for when examining planets and moons that could indicate the presence of biological activity. These tests could play a role in the extensive search for exoplanets that is being undertaken right now. Similar tests could also be carried out by a probe actually in a candidate solar system, where its proximity to the planets would give it a huge advantage in terms of sensitivity to the signatures it is looking for.

One aspect of the Daedalus mission profile has a very significant impact on this type of exploration. To keep the total mission time down to an acceptable duration, the Daedalus probe does not brake. Once it is accelerated up to its cruising speed of approximately 12% of the speed of light, it maintains this even through the encounter phase at the destination. This means that after a flight of about fifty years, the craft actually spends less than a day in the target system. Fitting useful science into this short window of opportunity would be a challenge, particularly if close-up operations are desired on a variety of planetary targets. Daedalus partially mitigated this problem by launching a series of sub-probes once it arrived in the destination system, each of which could be assigned to a different target. However, these probes would inherit the fast speed of the main craft, so although they would be able to get good close looks at the planets, they too would only have short periods in which to do so.

Crawford expressed a strong preference for a mission that is decelerated in the target solar system so that the craft (and any sub-probes) can hang around for longer, taking a good look around, and returning much more science. Daedalus itself could be configured to fly this way, but at the cost of significantly extending the mission time to 100 years or more. It comes down to a decision about whether the people building the Daedalus probe would be prepared to accept a mission of such a long duration in return for better science.

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Image: The Daedalus design. Credit: Adrian Mann.

The Choice of Targets

Martyn Fogg considered the star systems ‘near’ Sol using various criteria for selecting a suitable destination for a Daedalus craft. In the original plan, the chosen target was Barnard’s Star. At the time, there appeared to be evidence that there was a planet orbiting the star. This made it a good candidate for the mission, as no other exoplanets had been discovered at that time, and it was not known whether planet formation around stars was common or rare. It now appears that the evidence for this planet was not as good as had been thought. In the meantime, over 300 exoplanets have been discovered in recent years around a great many stars.

Although we have detected many exoplanets, there is still a great deal to learn about how the planets form, and the types of planets that form around different types of stars. Fogg and others have been running computer simulations of stars and their surrounding environments in an attempt to establish this kind of information. More problematic than single stars (like the Sun) are the multiple star systems, which pose a challenge for planets because the presence of extra stars restricts the potential for planetary orbits that are stable over a prolonged period of time. The simulations that Fogg runs track the progress of the system as a whole over billions of years, from the formation of the planets through to the era of stable orbits. By running the simulation again and again, it is possible to observe (as Fogg demonstrated) the zones around the stars in which we might find planets.

We are hopefully going to be deluged with data about extra-solar planets over the next few years from sources such as Kepler. As more information comes in, we will be building up a better picture of the stars that will make the best candidates for a mission. Fogg has his work cut out!

To be concluded tomorrow.

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Carl November 9, 2009 at 13:45

The braking version of the craft might employ a separated probe which does not brake and potentially yields data within the lifetime of the people who launched it. The flyby also can better prepare the mission controllers to instruct the main probe when it reaches the system.

The separation of the probes also means somewhat shorter flight since the mass to brake has been reduced by the mass of the flyby component.

Michel Van November 9, 2009 at 15:49

i propose flyby at several targets
->Proxima Centaury -> Alpha Centaury A&B
->Barnard’s star -> 70 Ophiuchi A&B
->UV Ceti A&B -> Tau Ceti
makes tree sun per mission.

wat about this: the probes use magnetic sail on target Star magnetic field
for decelerate and get into orbit around the Star ?

Peter November 9, 2009 at 15:59

I don’t see why it would be necessary to assemble it in space rather than on earth, at a fraction of the cost. (Presumably it would cost far less to attach multi- stage booster rockets to lift it into orbit than make multiple SSTO runs to assemble it in space.)

Assuming that we eventually do master SSTO technology, it would be useful to try to incorporate it into the ship itself, since presumably we’d want to use later generations of the ship for manned missions-and if those missions are to include landing on other planets- especially exosolar planets with earth-like atmospheres- onboard SSTO engines will be essential. (Not to mention the convenience of landing the entire craft with its full payload of scientific instruments directly on planets.)

James M. Essig November 9, 2009 at 16:37

Hi Pat;

I am pleased of Tau Zero partnership with the British Interplanetary Society on Project Icarus.

Studying the use of alternative fusion fuels makes sense. Note that there may be as much as ~ 1 solar mass of cometary debris, planetoid and other icy bodies located within the Oort Cloud last thing I heard although the above estimate seems perhaps a little high by one or two orders of magnitude.

Given the conservative assumption that the Oort Cloud contains 0.01 solar masses of hydrogen fuel, and that the fuel used on a project Icarus style craft would have a initial mass of 50,000 metric tons, we could launch (10 EXP 25)(2 x 10 EXP -5) missions or 2 x 10 EXP 20 missions. That’s 20 billion missions/year for the the next 10 billion years.

These bad boys could be launched all over the Galaxy and throughout the nearby super-clusters in that time.

A major caveat however, is finding a way to cost effectively mine the required fuel from Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, and the Kuiper Belt and Oort cloud. Still, it is never too early to start contemplating human space flight capabilities and sustainable resources for future time periods of cosmic scale.

John Hunt November 9, 2009 at 17:21

It is well noted that the Project Icarus would require considerable space-based infrastructure. Given that:
– we have spent 40 years essentially developing no permanent space-based infrastructure (we’re going to deorbit the ISS),
– plans to develop a lunar base look increasingly likely to be delayed, and
– necessary infrastructure (such as an established transport system between the jovian atmosphere and orbit) will not be the first priority for space development,
then, it is reasonable to presume that the launch of a Project Icarus will most likely be no sooner than 2100 and more likely 2150+.

Also, since Project Icarus’ only goal is discovery, it:
– will have to compete for funding against unrelated solar system discovery, development, and colonization activities pushing Icarus’ launch date yet further and
– a 50-year science-return time frame makes massive quantities of fuel necessary.

This huge infrastructure with its distant development becomes irrelevant if one explores concepts where:
– the fuel is left behind,
– we use the sun’s power for launch,
– the launch payload is extremely minimized, or
– the purpose of the mission is for survival of humanity rather than science.

So, to me the sad thing is that the BIS and the Tau Zero Foundation are putting expert resources towards a hugely expensive and distant mission design when other missions designs are neglected which are more feasible and have a stronger rationale.

Eniac November 9, 2009 at 22:51

What consideration, if any, is given to scale? Since it is going to be unmanned, it would make sense to use the latest in miniaturization to make it as small as possible. I suppose the communication equipment would have to be a certain size to be receivable from Earth. A Laser could probably be much smaller than a radio dish. The probe could eject a mirror somewhere halfway to fly away from the star as a relay for laser signals. That way you could avoid having to compete with starlight and reduce laser size substantially. The choice of propulsion system will also have a large impact on scalability, obviously.

Devin November 10, 2009 at 1:28

This is a fascinating topic in the extreme for me. I don’t think many people realize that while supraluminal travel would be wonderful (or wormholes and the like) it is not necessary to explore the universe. This is a superb blog too. I would just like to say also that I appreciate the hard work put into it over the years. On my better days I tell myself that humanity will get off this beautiful world of ours to go exploring some day. There is no telling what generations in the future will find. All the best!

Adam November 10, 2009 at 5:40

Hi All

I wonder if advances in minaturisation have reduced the original “Daedalus” payload significantly? As I recall the computer was supposed to store ~ 30 GB and mass a few tons (!) The recent post on using the gravity focus regions for communications makes me wonder just how powerful the comms system needs to be also. The main impediment to size reduction is the mass of the fusion propulsion system which is doomed to be massive. Perhaps John’s right about leaving the power system at home and using an energy-beam for propulsion instead, though that then makes braking and in-system propulsion difficult.

george scaglione November 10, 2009 at 15:23

mr john hunt,just read your above comment on icarus a minute ago and “tragically”… i could not AGREE more! we have spent 40 years industriously-not- developing space based infrastructure (as we should have been doing),and we even plan to de orbit the ISS ,incredible!! as for that lunar base delay you speak of,yes unfortunately i can see that comming down the road too.sooooo,we put off an icarus launch until 2100/or (2150 +)! exciting stuff,i’ll just,at that rate,be a mere boy,of about 201 years of age.and my god to think when i took the subway (in nyc) downtown to see the movie 2001 a space odyssey i actually thought i’d probably see missions such as it depicts in my lifetime.and when i took that trainride i was 20 years old!! never so sorry as to be forced to give one of our members such credit for being right! thank you very much,respectfully your friend george scaglione

george scaglione November 10, 2009 at 15:33

eniac – well yes! i am so brainwashed that i never for one moment considered the subject of scale! you make a GOOD point! i once envisioned our first starship as perhaps occuring around 2075 and left room for the possibility that it would indeed not be crewed.but like alot of folks in the back of my mind when somebody says starship – i visualize something like what we always see in sf ! good thoughts and thank you.your friend george

Eniac November 10, 2009 at 15:35

I am not so sure the fusion drive is doomed to be massive. If fusion exhaust is going to be diverted out the back magnetically (likely), the cyclotron radius for ions sets a limit on how small the device can be, but I do not think it is more than a meter or so. The relevant parameter here should be critical current vs. weight for a superconducting coil.

I remember reading about using a magnetic field for decelerating a craft against the ISM or the stellar wind. The same coil used for fusion exhaust recoil could later be used as a brake for deceleration. I don’t know if the effect is sufficiently strong to be worthwhile, but the relevant limiting quantity would again be critical current vs. weight.

Some high temperature superconductors have very high critical currents at low temperatures, so that could be an important example of vast improvement in critical technology since the design of Daedalus.

george scaglione November 10, 2009 at 15:39

devin,great thoughts too and pretty much on the money.sure hope that my guess of the first star probe being launched around 2075 will turn out to be correct!hope my guess is also what future generations will be able to call “on the money” as i have just used the term above. respectfully your friend george

george scaglione November 10, 2009 at 15:43

adam, your excellent comments above only serve to point out to me how much thought is yet to go into this project! with all my respect your friend george

ljk November 11, 2009 at 1:13

About the Project Icarus motto:

“Flying Closer to Another Star”

May I say this motto lacks a certain amount of spice and boldness.

Icarus needs a bold declaration, otherwise it

American revolutionary Patrick Henry said “Give me liberty or give me
death!” He did not say “Give me liberty or perhaps maybe we can work out
some kind of mutually beneficial compromise.”

When John F. Kennedy said his famous declaration about putting a man on
the Moon and returning him safely to Earth by the end of the 1960s, he
said and meant exactly that. Not, well, we’ll study the problem and get
back to you on whether or not we can get a man near the Moon, just so
long as he doesn’t get hurt or offend anyone or anything.

The Project Orion guys literally said “Saturn by 1970!” They believed it
and if the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty had not come along, they might
just have accomplished their declaration. Even if it wasn’t feasible,
their words were infectious and made people believe it could happen.

Even Star Trek’s theme was literally bold, with no compromises.
It could easily be used for a real declaration and goal of our purposes
in mounting an interstellar expedition.

Project Icarus needs to drop this “closer” business. They need to say
“To Alpha Centauri or Bust!” or some equivalent. A real, tangible
goal, even if it takes a while to get there. Otherwise it will hurt the
public enthusiasm for this project, and that is not something one
wants in this current economy.

Project Apollo succeeded in landing men on the Moon because it had
in no small part a definite goal and target. The current manned Moon
and Mars plans are not just suffering from a budget-limited NASA,
they also suffer from a poorly-defined declaration.

If Project Icarus were being planned a number of decades ago, I could
see a motto like “To Conquer the Stars!” Of course today that would
have all sorts of groups flipping out, even if the project folks did not
mean such a thing literally.

But in my view, Icarus needs something much bolder and with a definite
target in mind. Otherwise it sounds like some carefully worded corporate
business plan rather than humanity’s first steps to another star system.

These may seem like little things to those who are designing the star
probe, but if you lose sight of what the public latches onto with such
projects, you can easily lose your support. And Icarus will need all
the support it can get in this current world.

Michael Antoniewicz II November 11, 2009 at 16:49

Oh Come ON!!

We’ve already had a Very Good Project called Project Icarus!!!!

http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=6840

And *I* remember reading the Original Version, not the Revised Version above.

Everyone Off Your Butts and do a Library/Google-Fu Search to find a name that’s not taken.

Jezzzsss, no originallity in these kids these days…. ;)

kelvin November 11, 2009 at 17:56

ljk, I think you are being a bit harse about the Project Icarus ‘motto’ as you call it. Actually, ‘Project Icarus: son of Daedalus – flying closer to another star’. That’s the full title of the project. You could interpret this as part of a motto and maybe it is. But it was (1) meant to give reference to the fact that the youthful and enthusiast boy Icarus did fly too close to the sun and so fell to his death. Project Icarus want’s to capture the spirit of the boy Icarus by carrying on his passion, but reaching further to another star, which of course requires a spaceship rather than reliance upon aerodynamic devices. But we hope not to have the same fate as Icarus himself (2) the Icarus spacecraft will fly into the solar system of another star, and although it will take measurements of that star as the principal target, it will also take measurements of other objects in the solar system such as planetary bodies. Hence we want to fly ‘near’ to that star but not ‘into’ it. If we were to adopt a full motto for the project, here is one we are considering, spoken by Alan Bond at the recent symposium and stolen by us, in reference to the fusion engine: “Addressing the universe on its own terms”. How about that then?

Addressing the comment from John Hunt on it being sad that BIS and TZF putting resources into this project. You must remember that the team are all volunteers with other responsibilities. We have all agreed on our Terms of Reference which includes ‘mainly fusion based propulsion’ allowing for options such as antimatter catalyzed fusion and additional drivers to support part of the mission such as nuclear-electric. But we don’t consider this a waste of our time. Even if the final Icarus design is much improved on Daedalus but yet highly impractical, that tells us something useful – look at other options for interstellar travel.
George & Adam, regards much thought going into the project. Give us a chance, we havn’t even entered the conceptual design phase yet. The design will be properly considered and debated and you will also get to see various stages of it for comment, which the team heads. Support us guys, we have a plan, help us to make it happen. Good comments from everyone.

george scaglione November 11, 2009 at 19:00

ljk,yes 100% right! i have frequently pointed out of late that in mercury gemini apollo – they stated what would be done and then WENT AHEAD and did it! we have no such drive today.today we say what we want to do and then lol “boldly” make a half hearted attempt! :( imho we must get back to making a plan and then DOING it! thank you very much your friend george

Peter November 12, 2009 at 15:05

Kelvin: As I mentioned before, I don’t believe nuclear engines are fundamentally practical for interstellar missions, just as chemical rockets aren’t practical for interplanetary missions. The focus should be not on nuclear powered interstellar probes but on nuclear powered interplanetary probes or manned missions. The analogy I used before was that ‘you don’t venture across the Atlantic in a canoe.’ Telescopes will soon give us most of the scientific data about neighboring stars that a probe would anyway…To make it worth our while, the focus for interstellar missions should be on warp drives and wormholes.

ljk November 12, 2009 at 21:24

Kelvin, I was not trying to be harsh and I was definitely not trying to
be facetious. I was attempting to be direct, as to be anything else would
go against the point I am making here.

I don’t think anyone here thought or would interpret that Icarus would
actually fly INTO another star. Saying “To the Stars!” is simple, direct
enough, and gets the point across that the probe is designed to explore
another star system. Plus the fact that you put your original phrase on
your mission logo/patch certainly makes it to be a motto.

As for Alan Bond’s “Addressing the universe on its own terms”: Maybe
I am just old school, but it still sounds too politically correct to me,
that we will go into the galaxy “taking only photos and leaving only
footprints.” Sounds nice, but interstellar exploration isn’t the same
as a hike in the woods. Plus it is still a bit too long and wordy.

In reality, you are sending a large, nuclear-powered ship barreling into
another star system at relativistic speeds and lobbing equally fast smaller
probes at many of its worlds. You won’t be retrieving Icarus or its parts
and as humans will be so far from the probe, you can only hope that
any life forms on those target worlds don’t get hit, squashed, or otherwise
affected in ways they probably didn’t expect.

As for the method of propulsion itself, I think you are still holding the
original idea of Daedalus a bit too close, whether it be out of reverence
or needing a base to build from. Daedalus was impressive, but tech,
knowledge, and ideas have changed in three decades. I can even recall
an article from 1984 where an engineer said the original fusion design
of Daedalus would not work and in fact burn up the ship, so things
were becoming outdated mere years after the original plan.

Personally I think you need to get away from fusion for now, unless
there is a breakthrough soon. Otherwise you might as well plan for
an antimatter drive for Icarus. I think you should focus on an
Orion-style plan, as we know that could work and it could be built
much sooner.

And I know you probably won’t like this, but perhaps Icarus is not
the best name for an interstellar mission for the very fact that he
died flying too close to a star. After all, that is why the BIS chose
the name Daedalus for the successfully flying father and not for
the literally crash and burn son. There are lots of other more
successful and relevant names in mythology if you want to reconsider.

I hope you don’t consider the constructive criticism you have received
here as being less than supportive. Nothing could be further from the
truth. You are going to find and get a lot of intelligent information
and help from the participants of Centauri Dreams. Icarus is a big
project with a lot of unknowns. Ideas will be brought up, tossed about,
and either built upon or thrown out as new knowledge comes into place.

And please note, most everyone participating in CD is a volunteer too.
So you can’t use that as an excuse for us to go easy on you. :^)

Eniac November 12, 2009 at 21:29

Peter: I am afraid what you are asking is much like an Indian tribe a thousand years ago deciding to focus on building a jet airliner to cross the Atlantic. On the other hand, I believe that Hawaii was discovered and settled by Fijians using a large, seaworthy kind of canoe.

Peter November 13, 2009 at 11:15

I’m not sure your analogies quite fit. How about this one: were those Fijians carrying a ton of TNT on board their canoe (re: propellant equivalent to 10 million Hiroshima bombs)? Were they attacked by sharks at every step of the way(re: shielding)?

As for the warp drive analogy, it would be more like the Lindbergh flight than a jet liner. We couldn’t just blast to any place in the galaxy we felt like. Each trip would require immense preparation and navigation, gradually going further in very careful, small increments. Besides, it’s not something that one can determine the feasibility of without further experimentation. It seems highly unlikely at this point, but how do you know that the LHC, for example, won’t make a breakthrough in our understanding of dark energy that leads to practical warp drive engineering within years? How can you be certain that it isn’t common for civilizations such as ours to develop warp drives at this point in our development? We are, after all, much closer to the end of our knowledge of the physical laws of the universe than the beginning; if it was impossible then the latest physics would suggest so; given the explosion of new theories for propellantless propulsion in just the last decade, that clearly isn’t the case.

Bounty November 13, 2009 at 14:40

Is that just a typo, or do you really mean 12% of the speed of light? What’s the exhaust velocity?

kelvin November 13, 2009 at 20:32

ljk, good comments. I am afraid that Project Icarus is ‘mainly fusion based propulsion’. That now forms part of our initial requirements which the project has to meet. As I said earlier, this can be suplemented with other propulsion schemes, but we won’t be getting away from fusion on this project. I have an interesting vision that I would like to share with you. What I would like to see happening is major design projects on different transport schemes taking place around the world. This could be projects to design a solar sail powered vehicle, particle beam driven, microwave or whatever. But I believe that the best way to advance the prospects for interstellar flight is to perform top rate engineering studies which demonstrate the proposal in a rigorous manner. Ultimately, increasing the technology readiness level of specific schemes is the aim. As for the name Project Icarus, well firstly it was suggested in the introduction to the Daedalus study report by Alan Bond. And yes I am aware that there are other Icarus projects historically. However, I leave you with one of my favourite quotes which I think makes my point well. Keep up the great debates and scrutinisation. Cheers. Kelvin

“Of Icarus, In ancient days two aviators procured to themselves wings. Daedalus flew safely through the middle air and was duly honoured on his landing. Icarus soared upwards to the sun till the wax melted which bound his wings and his flight ended in fiasco. The classical authorities tell us, of course, that he was only “doing a stunt”; but I prefer to think of him as the man who brought to light a serious constructional defect in the flying-machines of his day. So, too, in science. Cautious Daedalus will apply his theories where he feels confident they will safely go; but by his excess of caution their hidden weaknesses remain undiscovered. Icarus will strain his theories to the breaking-point till the weak joints gape. For the mere adventure? Perhaps partly, this is human nature. But if he is destined not yet to reach the sun and solve finally the riddle of its construction, we may at least hope to learn from his journey some hints to build a better machine”. A.Eddington, “Stars & Atoms”, Oxford University Press, p41, 1927.

Peter November 14, 2009 at 0:57

Re: “top rate engineering studies which demonstrate the proposal in a rigorous manner.” – Perhaps you are referring to, in part, 3d and 4d autocad. I myself have been learning Dassault Systèmes’ Catia- an industry standard for aerospace engineering…the latest version v6 offers amazing opportunities for online collaboration…how open would this be to outside collaboration, or is this largely a TZF/ BIS thing?

Peter November 14, 2009 at 2:38

I must add also that it wasn’t specified what type of fusion is to be used here- I assume we’re referring to Inertial Electrostatic Confinement (IEC) fusion…otherwise known as ‘Polywell’ fusion, pioneered largely by the late Dr. Bussard (whose work is enthusiastically documented and carried on by the fine folks over at talk-polywell.org). This is a rather uncertain, ‘alternative’ approach to nuclear fusion (unlike France’s tokomak effort), which is arguably as far from achieving net energy as the other alternative approaches: Paul Allen’s reverse configuration field thingy and Eric Lerner’s focus fusion…all of which are probably far behind the effort at Los Alamos’ LIF… At any rate, it would be appropriate for the Icarus group to be specific about just which fusion approach they are setting their hopes upon, given that the technology is still in the experimental (rather than the engineering) stage.

kelvin November 14, 2009 at 15:49

Peter, ToR for Project Icarus specify ‘mainly fusion based propulsion’. Daedalus used electron driven ICF. As a starting point Icarus will consider this, but will also look at alternatives such as electrostatic or magnetic. We will also look at alternative drivers such as laser beams. A review of these different schemes will be conducted in the context of space propulsion applications. On your other question, Project Icarus is a BIS/TZF initiative, but we are using people to do the work who are ‘suitably qualified’, and currently this is an international team with members in the UK, US and Europe. I would also say that anyone wishing to get involved in the technical aspects of Project Icarus should email Paul Gilster or the Icarus web site stating what your background is and how you can contribute.

ljk November 17, 2009 at 20:31

Kelvin, I definitely give you points on finding that quote about
Daedalus and Icarus from Sir Arthur Eddington. But the design of
the wings was not at fault; it was Icarus not heeding his father’s
warnings about getting too close to the hot Sun that caused his
literal downfall. I could also point out that a mere set of wings would
not loft a human being if I was being really picky. So I still suggest
finding another name about a more successful flying being.

I know you are set on fusion and I can understand why in the sense
that it is a “clean” fuel compared to Orion’s nuclear fission method.
I just hope for several reasons to see a working fusion reactor in
the very near future. But I do hope the team has gotten away from
wanting to scoop helium-3 from Jupiter’s atmosphere, or we might
as well wait for an antimatter drive or a giant laser for a sail probe.

Your idea of different groups looking into different vessel and
propulsion methods is a very good one and I hope it will be taken up.

My thanks to Tibor for mentioning that the idea of an information
package on Icarus was brought up by him. Apparently this idea
will have to be outsourced, which may be a good thing anyway.

Any thoughts or discussions on the kinds of AI needed for Icarus
and any other kind of serious star probe? I am primarily curious
to know if a “smart” system can be made that at the same time does
not become actually aware, because if we cannot have one without
the other, that is going to be no small issue for Icarus which I do not
think has been focused on enough either in the Daedalus days or now.

If Icarus’ brain is not developed as well as the focus we are seeing
on its engines, then the mission will be compromised.

And I hope the Icarus team will have more than just engineers on it.
As with SETI, we need folks from different relevant disciplines to
make this a success.

kelvin November 19, 2009 at 17:15

ljk, thanks for your good comments. Project Icarus as a name is staying. We already have a lot invested in it. As for the analogy with ancient Greek, well that’s all just a bit of fun really. Ultimately, the choice of the name will not actually effect the type of design we come up with. It’s more of a branding issue. Regards using a diverse team, keep a close eye on the icarus we site in the next month or so and you will one heck of a diverse team coming together. The message in a bottle ideas was Tibor’s and its a good one. He is leading this effort. Cheers. Kelvin

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