Tau Zero in Second Life

I have almost no experience with online virtual worlds like Second Life, but I do want to mention that Marc Millis will appear later today (Nov. 2) on the ‘Virtually Speaking’ talk show program, which can be accessed here as well as in Second Life. The focus of the interview is to be on prospects for interstellar travel, what a program like the 100-Year Starship can do, and what Tau Zero and other efforts (such as Project Icarus) are all about. The show begins at 9 PM Eastern time (0200 UTC) this evening, and may wind up being audio-only if the Second Life bit doesn’t work out.

I’m sure it will, but Marc is as new to Second Life as I am, and my last experience with the medium had me wandering around in an enormous virtual house trying to find someone with whom I was supposed to be doing an online interview, and I remember being alternately intrigued and baffled by the options available to me. Old time Second Lifers will find this bizarre, I’m sure, but some of us haven’t yet gotten up to speed with meetings held in virtual worlds, alas.

A Conference on Olaf Stapledon

Be aware of Starmaker: The Philosophy of Olaf Stapledon, a conference to be held at the headquarters of the British Interplanetary Society at 27/29 South Lambeth Road, London on November 23. Born in 1886, Williams Olaf Stapledon was a philosopher by training and a writer by choice, the author of two classics that have had a powerful impact on many scientists now working in aerospace and interstellar studies: Last and First Men (1930) and Star Maker (1937). You may also have heard of Odd John (1935), although it should be noted that Stapledon was prolific at both fiction and non-fiction.

Image: Stapledon lecturing at the British Interplanetary Society, to which he had been invited by Arthur C. Clarke in 1948.

The complete program is online, and among the presentations I note in particular Richard Osborne’s talk on Stapledon and Dyson spheres. Freeman Dyson is on record as saying that it was Stapledon’s futuristic vision in Star Maker that brought about the concept of Dyson spheres, hardly the first instance of this author’s influence. When Stapledon lectured at the BIS, his topic was ‘Interplanetary Man,’ but his vision reached far deeper into the cosmos than our own Solar System, dealing with themes of consciousness and the survival of intelligence in an evolving universe.

The Alpha Centauri Prize

Project Icarus founder Kelvin Long has gone online with a proposal for an international competition to promote research on the design of a star probe. Long is thinking in terms not dissimilar from the X Prize, though the Alpha Centauri Prize he advocates would be considered an extension of the existing Project Icarus and long-term in nature.

Over time, the concept would be worked upon by future generations and ultimately lead to a direct design blue print for an interstellar probe after several decades of running. Like Project Icarus, it is the hope that other teams around the world would be assembled to work on specific proposals investigated historically such as NERVA, Starwisp, Vista, Longshot, AIMStar, Orion or one of the many others. This way, the technological maturity of different propulsion schemes can be improved over time and the case could be better made for precursor missions to the outer solar system and one day to the nearest stars.

Long envisions teams competing for a cash prize every two to three years in an academic competition run by a non-profit organization. Over time, engineering design ideas for a probe to another star would evolve. The process is a gradual one that may not settle upon a single optimum propulsion method:

… we may find that what may emerge is not a single choice for going to the stars in the coming centuries, but instead a realization that it is a combination of approaches with highly optimized engineering designs that will be the way to go. This may suggest hybrid propulsion schemes and could for example be along the lines of a fusion-based drive with anti-proton catalyzed reactions but using a nuclear electric engine for supplementary power and perhaps a solar sail and MagSail for solar system escape or upon arrival. From the two decades of research will develop reliable engineering studies, practical progress of the technology and several clear front runner designs to focus initially divergent research options towards the proper investment into the clear front runner designs by a process of gradual down select.

Can an Alpha Centauri Prize be a serious incentive for research and an enabler for new technologies, as well as a driver for inspiring students and educating the public? More on the idea in The Alpha Centauri Prize: Taking Volunteer Research To A New Level.

Propulsion Conference Abstract Deadline

On 30 July to 1 August, 2012 the 48th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference & Exhibit takes place in Atlanta. The focus is broad, as the AIAA comments on its site:

The objective for JPC 2012 is to identify and highlight how innovative aerospace propulsion technologies powering both new and evolving systems are being designed, tested, and flown. Flight applications include next generation commercial aircraft, regional, and business jets, military applications, supersonic/hypersonic high speed propulsion applications, commercial and government-sponsored launch systems, orbital insertion, satellite, and interstellar propulsion.

Next summer seems a long way off as the weather changes toward late fall in the northern hemisphere, but I mention this now because abstracts for the conference are due by November 21. You can view the call for papers here.

Upcoming Interstellar Workshop

Finally, be aware of the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop, running November 28 & 29, 2011 in Oak Ridge, TN at the Doubletree Hilton Hotel. Here’s the agenda for Tuesday the 29th, following an opening reception the night before:

8:00 Welcome and Opening Remarks (Les Johnson)

8:15 Sun Focus Comes First; Interstellar Comes Second (Dr. Claudio Maccone)

9:00 Interstellar Travel: Realistic Ideas and Fanciful Dreams (Les Johnson)

9:30 Human and Institutional Barriers to Large Scale Scale Geoengineering and Interstellar Spaceflight (Dr. Kent Williams)

10:00 Coffee Break and Group Picture

10:30 Power and Propulsion: An Informal Survey of Opportunities Within Particle Physics (Dr. Jim Woosely)

11:00 Project Icarus (Dr. Richard Obousy)

11:30 Antimatter Propulsion (Harold Gerrish)??

12:00 Lunch

1:00 Interstellar Light Sails (Dr. Gregory Matloff)

1:30 TBD (Dr. Conley Powell)

2:00 Jovian Tesla Radio (Dr. David Fields)

2:30 Lasers Revisited: Their Superior Utility for Interstellar Beacons, Communications and Travel (Dr. John Rather)

3:00 Interstellar Exploration Through Art (C Bangs)

3:30 Humanity in the Outlands: Anthropological and Sociological Concerns in the Face of Touching the Universe? (Dr. Robert C. Lightfoot)

4:00 Shell Worlds (Robert Kennedy)?

4:30 Sublight Colonization of the Galaxy (Ken Roy)?

5:00 The Fermi Paradox: A Roundtable Discussion (Stephanie Osborn)

6:00 Dinner

8:00 Public Forum (Robert Kennedy)