Going Interstellar at Princeton

by Paul Gilster on August 14, 2006

The annual New Trends in Astrodynamics and Applications conference meets for the third time this week in Princeton, with Ed Belbruno calling the house to order on Wednesday. From an interstellar perspective, this year’s conference is packed — last year we had but three interstellar papers, whereas the 2006 meeting will feature two complete sessions and no fewer than nine papers on topics ranging from collecting antimatter from natural sources in the Solar System (James Bickford) to spacecraft miniaturization (Mason Peck) and antimatter/nuclear hybrids (Gerald Jackson). You can find the list of speakers and their topics at the program site.

This year the focus on near-term precursor concepts is robust. Greg Matloff will report on interim missions as a way to ‘prep for Centaurus,’ while Les Johnson and Sandy Montgomery (NASA MSFC) will present the latest solar sail developments, and Claudio Maccone will examine the FOCAL mission to the Sun’s gravity lens. I had been looking forward to renewing conversations with both Matloff and Maccone and haven’t seen Johnson or Montgomery since researching my book in 2003, but unexpected developments scuttled my travel plans.

Nonetheless, Centauri Dreams should be able to report on many of these papers after the fact, and from what I’ve seen already, they should make for fascinating reading. Marc Millis’ presentation on the “Incessant Obsolescence Postulate and Practical Interstellar Flight” makes shrewd points about mission times and targets that will provide fodder for lengthy discussion, and Jordin Kare will be on hand to talk about his ‘Sailbeam’ concept for probes moving at a tenth of lightspeed.

All this good material reminds me that two years have gone by since I first talked about making the re-creation of a yearly interstellar bibliography a prime goal of the Tau Zero Foundation (which in those days was being developed under a different name). I say ‘re-creating’ because the first interstellar bibliography was produced by Robert Forward and Eugene Mallove over a quarter of a century ago. Its last appearance was in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society in 1980, with 2700 items in 70 subject categories. That a working bibliography is a basic tool for research in these disciplines is obvious, and my hope is to begin work on the new one before year’s end.

{ 3 comments }

Adam Crowl August 16, 2006 at 2:58

Hi Paul

That’s quite a bibliography for a quarter century in the past. How much have we done since then???

The x-ray source occultation ‘discovery’ of Kuiper Belt debris has a few implications for interstellar missions too. Firstly, there’s more crap to avoid. Second, the Belt fringes will have resources we’re yet to explore, vital for IS travel. Finally, SETA has an even bigger target set to examine and ETIs have more freespace mass to exploit.

Bigger x-ray scopes will be needed to examine the space-crap between us and target stars, or else any probes will go *bang* in a flash of x-rays (ironically) when they collide with a 10 m iceberg at 0.1c.

Adam

Administrator August 16, 2006 at 9:45

The amazing thing is that we don’t know much about those ‘fringes’ in the first place, or how far they extend. SETA has plenty of work to do in such environments. Steve Howe, who is behind the antimatter sail concept, has spoken often about the problem of debris in interstellar missions. Like you say, *bang* when the probe reaches its destination, and how exactly do you shield something moving at 0.1c effectively? The Project Daedalus designers had a couple of articles about this in their final report; I didn’t think their conclusions were very satisfactory.

george scaglione July 24, 2008 at 10:14

paul,adam,yes it seems like a crazy thing that today july 24,2008 i should “finally” be answering posts from august 2006,and lol at this point i wonder if anyone will see or read this ! but the more up to date comments section of the site seems to be down as paul has so kindly explained to me so i am looking around and this caught my eye since i had visited princeton as a tourist about a week or so ago.as far as shielding an interstellar craft i do see the points made above.but i thought first of the fictional “enterprise” which does indeed have a device which sweeps space in front of it to avoid these very problems.funny thing i mentioned afew days ago a potential method of using a device to sweep space in front of a craft so as to be able to be able to make a small tear in spacetime and perhaps fly quite freely into a parallel dimension as you went.lol i don’t ask for much! but since i was here i thought i’d mention.glad for any comments anyone might choose to make.respectfully to one and all your friend george scaglione

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