Tau Zero Update

by Paul Gilster on May 18, 2009

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.

{ 17 comments }

Peter May 19, 2009 at 3:01

The most important elements in getting philanthropic funding will be infrastructure (in terms of project planning and management) and specificity. Specifics are the nuts and bolts of approaching donors- whether it be because of their ignorance or knowledge…

This holds true for both private and public sources. I’ve mentioned this before- I don’t think it’s wise for the TZF to maintain an anti- government bias, given the history of research in these areas. There may be 3 times the amount of funding coming from private sources, but what exactly is that money going to?

Marc Millis May 19, 2009 at 10:50

Peter;
The ’3x private funding’ refers to work spanning 1995-2002, rather than money currently flowing. Most of that old work was where organizations invested in themselves or hired new people in, but did not publish their results. Some, like British Aerospace Systems, did have their grantees publish their progress publicly so that the rest of the community could benefit.

And when it comes to advice on running nonprofits, from what working experience of are you citing? What are your references?

kurt9 May 19, 2009 at 13:48

No, I think TZF should stay away from government funding, if possible. My friends who have worked in academia and the federally funding science milieu tell me that it is quite the racket these days, with very little actually useful technology being developed. There might be a few SBIRs or military R&D contracts that might be worth biding on. However, my friends tell me that it is almost impossible to get an SBIR without political connections and that they are also dominated by the peer-review group-think mentality.

Military R&D contracts might be more fruitful. The DoD has a long history of having a sweet tooth for “junk science” (as Dr. Parker has put it) and have occasionally financed highly speculative concepts at rather low levels of funding. It is worth noting that Dr. Bussard’s IEC polywell fusion concept is being financed at a relatively low level by the Navy.

Peter May 19, 2009 at 16:40

And when it comes to advice on running nonprofits, from what working experience of are you citing? What are your references? .

I have no experience whatsoever running a nonprofit, but if I understand correctly the TZF currently exists only in form and is far from being able to fund research- so I just assume its members could use any advice they can get.:-)

That said, I’m far from that stage also (I detailed my mission under this topic http://www.centauri-dreams.org/?p=1962 and this one http://www.centauri-dreams.org/?p=1918 )
and my org doesn’t even exist legally yet, but I’ve been putting lots of work and research into planning the infrastructure so that if and when funding comes, the fundors will know exactly how their money is being used. Based on my research the specificity aspect has been an issue too often neglected by non-profits, especially when it comes to science, and is an area where, according to what I’ve read, the TZF might be lacking. Perhaps I’m wrong.

David May 19, 2009 at 17:50

Many Years ago I knew NIH funding was far from Junk it has advanced medicine profoundly.
I know in many areas privat funding is short Hoever the aerospce industry has a gov funding cushion itself!

As long a there is no conflict for Marc I dont think any source should be ignored-I would even check Europe and Asia I know thye have been interested in sails Russi even for that matter as long as itdoesnt caus Mark any problems

Peter May 19, 2009 at 23:53

As long a there is no conflict for Marc I dont think any source should be ignored

Or to put it more succinctly, TZF shoudn’t be held back simply because Marc’s NASA job doesn’t allow him to seek government funds for a non-profit…(Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s my understanding that this is the basis for Marc’s aversion to public funds.) If this is the case, then surely this technicality could have some legal loophole that would allow both his central involvement and the opportunity for gov’t funding.

Just trying to be helpful.

Marc Millis May 20, 2009 at 8:01

Peter;

Thanks for sharing your status. It helps keep things in context for the readership.

Regarding transparency of nonprofit funding, you will discover if you ever follow through with your own organization, that nonprofit tax documents are publicly available. Also, any serious donations are indeed accompanied with paperwork to clearly state any conditions of the donation. Since these tend to be unique, it would be too cumbersome to post such details on a public website. This also goes for the Foundation’s “business plan.”

Marc Millis May 20, 2009 at 8:12

Thanks for the encouraging words from others!

When it comes to government funding, there would indeed be a conflict of interest for Tau Zero to purse government funding while I am its President. That does not prohibit, however, individual practitioners from pursuing Federal funding in the context of their host institutions. When available and appropriate, those venues already exist and a few practitioners succeed in getting such funding.

One of the reasons that I created Tau Zero was to also allow other sources of funding to support research and in a manner that is free of the constraints of Federal funding (such as prohibitions against volunteer services, creating promotional material, and staying posed to earn revenue – just some examples).

The bottom line is that my cohorts and I are adapting to current conditions as we each endeavor to make progress toward the long-range goal of interstellar flight. We’ll take what support we can get to keep chipping away at the unsolved challenges.

As astra incrementis!

george scaglione May 20, 2009 at 14:32

marc, i very much hope that through some means copious funding will become available.this is a project in which we are all interested but unfortunately about which (funding) i know little or nothing! the very very best of luck in your above mentioned attempts! i see tau zero as extemely important and drop in usually at least once a day to check out the latest things people have said. very respectfully,george

Pat Galea May 20, 2009 at 17:45

One way to help the funding is to set up a recurring PayPal donation:

http://www.tauzero.aero/site/html/support_us.html

The buttons to submit the donation are invisible, but by hovering your cursor just beneath the donation amount box you should see where the link is.

Marc Millis May 20, 2009 at 22:50

Repairs to both the ‘donate’ and ‘contact’ functions are pending soon. We had to move the TZF site to a different server, and not all the glitches have yet been fixed.

Sigh,

Marc

Peter May 21, 2009 at 3:54

The most important elements in getting philanthropic funding will be infrastructure (in terms of project planning and management) and specificity. Specifics are the nuts and bolts of approaching donors- whether it be because of their ignorance or knowledge…

This holds true for both private and public sources. I’ve mentioned this before- I don’t think it’s wise for the TZF to maintain an anti- government bias, given the history of research in these areas. There may be 3 times the amount of funding coming from private sources, but what exactly is that money going to?

Peter;
The ‘3x private funding’ refers to work spanning 1995-2002, rather than money currently flowing. Most of that old work was where organizations invested in themselves or hired new people in, but did not publish their results. Some, like British Aerospace Systems, did have their grantees publish their progress publicly so that the rest of the community could benefit.

When I asked ‘what exactly is that money going to?’ I suppose I was referring to the degree to which those funds were being devoted to decidedly propulsion physics research. I don’t doubt that British Aerospace Systems invested copious private funds, but how much of that did they invest in activities which might fall within the criteria of the TZF?

It’s worth noting that, compared to a year ago, we live in socialistic times. From the POV of aspiring non-profits, there is more government money out there than private money- that’s a fact that can’t be ignored.

Peter May 21, 2009 at 3:56

Nope, that didn’t work. Paul, we need a way to quote within quotes.

Administrator May 21, 2009 at 8:11

Peter, you can use the ‘blockquote’ HTML tag to set up quotes within a comment, but I haven’t tested quotes within quotes. I’ll see if I can figure something out.

Peter May 21, 2009 at 22:02

I guess what I meant was a way to specify who you’re quoting. With forums you can usually put <quote= “so and so” and it will type “so and so said:” . I guess you can’t do that with blockquotes.

Administrator May 22, 2009 at 8:16

Peter wrote:

I guess what I meant was a way to specify who you’re quoting. With forums you can usually put…

I see what you’re after now. The only way I know how to do it using my current software is what I have done here, writing in the name of the person quoted and then using the ‘blockquote’ tag.

Peter May 23, 2009 at 5:35

Wouldn’t that be unacceptable rational?

But seriously, there’s reasoning behind the software- it prevents people accidentally attributing quotations to those who didn’t make them. But if you say there’s no way around it, I’m cool with that.

Comments on this entry are closed.