Tau Zero’s Kelvin Long seems to be everywhere these days, his most recent publication being a summary of the interstellar sessions at the UK Space Conference, held in early April. You can read that one here, where you’ll discover that Long also provides a thorough backgrounder on the Tau Zero Foundation, its goals and vision for the future. Some of these goals are much discussed in these pages — to make incremental progress toward the robotic and human exploration of the stars by using philanthropic funding to support credible research by Tau Zero ‘practitioner’ scientists.
Other goals include practical ways to expand the public perception of interstellar issues, including supporting students through scholarships, offering educational products, and organizing sessions at established conferences. Echoes naturally arise from the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics project that Marc Millis once managed for NASA, but in fact Tau Zero hopes to take a significantly different course, and one with a broader charter. From Long’s summation:
The Tau Zero Foundation is interested in all aspects of interstellar research. This includes the seeming impossible faster-than-light travel schemes such as Warp Drive, through to the seemingly simple solar sails which were recently described in a book by practitioner Greg Matloff titled Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel, by Praxis Publishing Limited. Matloff has also initiated an interstellar precursor mission study with the help of Claudio Bruno and others. This is for an IAA Commission 3 study for a probe to the outer heliosphere to be launched around the 2023 timeframe. This shows that the work of the Foundation is not just a continuation of the NASA BPP work but is broad ranging in scope.
We should note that while hunting up philanthropic funding provides its own challenges, it also gets the organization out from under the political and bureaucratic bonds imposed by large government organizations, and thus offers significant advantages. We’ve recently seen another side of what we hope will become a regular Tau Zero activity, which is the publication of books and articles that gather recent research and communicate it to the public. Here Long is again center stage, as he is working on the upcoming book Interstellar Travel: Going from Mars to the Stars, to be published by Springer in 2010. And as if that weren’t enough, he heads up the Project Icarus starship effort, a joint activity between the British Interplanetary Society and Tau Zero.
The six presentations from the UK Space Conference are summarized in Long’s current article, and having read it, you’ll want to know that you can access all of the conference presentations at Tibor Pacher’s peregrinus interstellar site. And speaking of Tau Zero activities, the interstellar bet between Tibor and myself continues to show a satisfying tilt in my direction, with 73 percent of those voting agreeing with me that 2025 is too early to expect the launch of a true interstellar mission with a mission duration of less than 2000 years. Tibor and I will be talking about the bet and other matters at the upcoming Sixth IAA Symposium on Realistic Near-Term Advanced Scientific Space Missions, to be held this July in Aosta, Italy. The current Aosta program is available and, thanks to Tibor, now easy to access online.