The Project Icarus team has founded a non-profit research organization called Icarus Interstellar, its goal being to ‘foster research into those necessary technologies which can make interstellar research a reality’ through the study of such topics as fusion, nanotechnology, advanced power sources and other critical drivers for interstellar flight. We’ve tracked Icarus here from the beginning, when it emerged as an ambitious attempt to update and re-think the original Project Daedalus starship design of the 1970s. Taking fusion as its propulsion mechanism, the Icarus team now seeks to analyze and design a probe in terms of recent advances in numerous fields.
How do you go about designing a starship? Something this speculative, which must of necessity rely on extrapolations of where technology is going, happens outside the normal 9-5 workday. Centauri Dreams readers know that the Icarus team is composed of volunteers, most of whom work and exchange ideas over the Internet — only a few have actually been in the same room together. But all this is about to change. The team is now launching a fundraiser with the goal of supporting students and researchers in traveling to the DARPA/NASA 100-Year Starship Symposium, which will be held from September 30 through October 2 in Orlando, FL.
The team’s Web page supporting this effort is here, and the video below, assembled by current project leader Andreas Tziolas, offers background information. It’s especially noteworthy that Icarus now includes an active student designer program that focuses on training future generations in interstellar spacecraft design. Any funds raised through the new site will flow first to student designers who may lack the financial ability to travel to Orlando for the event.
Watching the Icarus effort grow has been inspirational –the project is now up to 35 researchers who have dedicated thousands of hours to studying the scientific constraints on a spacecraft that must attain speeds far beyond anything we have ever flown. The challenge is to design a craft that could explore a solar system within 15 light years of Earth, which involves speeds of at least 10 percent of the speed of light. We can contrast that with the current state of the art. Voyager 1, as I write this, is some 17,630,411,456 kilometers from the Sun, making about 17 kilometers per second. At that rate, 77,000 years would pass before it could cover the distance to the Alpha Centauri stars. A flyby at 10 percent of lightspeed would take less than fifty years.
Conceived as a joint venture of the Tau Zero Foundation and the British Interplanetary Society, Project Icarus has managed six conference appearances as well as 60 reports and publications in the 18 months it has been in existence, a tribute to the entire team, but especially to its first three leaders, Kelvin Long, Richard Obousy and Andreas Tziolas. If you’re not familiar with the nuts and bolts of the Icarus effort, the breakdown of its 20 research modules is available online. We now look toward Orlando and the 100 Year Starship Symposium, where Icarus team members, Tau Zero practitioners and others in the interstellar community will soon gather.