Sunday, January 23, 2011

Traveling to Barnard's star - Project Daedalus

From via Dvice I again find myself fascinated with the sheer scale and effort of what it would take to field a trip to our nearest stellar neighbor Barnard's Star. Once again I read about Project Daedalus which was a proposal to send a craft 5.9 light years to Barnard's Star. This was a journey which was possibly feasible which could be achieved in about 50 years if the ship could be accelerated to about 70 million miles per hour. This mind numbing speed could only be achieved using a hybrid fission/fusion propulsion system. Yes, Daedalus would have to use for all intents and purposes the same fuel as those found in atomic bombs to achieve the speeds needed. Now you have a matter of scale to house and properly absorb the fantastic pressures developed by this "fuel". The graphic shows a concept of the craft next to the largest lifting system ever assembled by the US, The Saturn rocket. As you can see, Daedalus dwarfs Saturn and the weird thing is Daedalus is only a two stage system! As massive as it would be, Daedalus would only carry enough fuel for less than 5 years, so the bulk of the trip would be a coast. Even so, Daedalus would only spend a short while at it's target. Daedalus would be a fly by and for all it's massive size would only be an unmanned probe.

Ultimately the program, conceived in the 70s, purpose was to determine at 1970s level of tech, could such a project be carried forward. The consensus was that it could, but not easily. Building on the foundation set by Daedalus is Project Icarus. Inspired by Daedalus, Icarus will attempt to re-examine the problem of interstellar propulsion with the benefit of over thirty years of scientific progress and understanding since the original project.

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