Yanks and Brits join forces to design private interstellar spacecraft

7 01 2011

Rendering of the Project Daedalus interstellar probe, the grandfather of Project Icarus. (Credit: Adrian Mann)

That whole American Revolution thing is water under the bridge for two forward-looking spacefaring organizations.  In a joint venture between the Tau Zero Foundation, a private American advanced space propulsion charity, and the British Interplanetary Society, a spacecraft known as Project Icarus has taken shape.

So, what exactly is Project Icarus?  To put it simply, Icarus is an outgrowth of the 1973-1978 interstellar mission study spearheaded by the British Interplanetary Society called Project Daedalus.  In Daedalus, details of how to achieve a flyby mission to nearby Barnard’s Star were worked out, leading to the proposal of a massive, two-stage, nuclear-fusion-propelled spacecraft (see image above).  As designed, Daedalus would cover the six-light-year (36 trillion miles) distance between us and Barnard’s Star in only 50 years(!).

Icarus aims to achieve generally the same goals but with one important difference – Icarus will use technology available today, similar to the US Navy’s Project Longshot in the late 1980s.  Check the Icarus Project out if you get a chance, and should you feel philanthropic, offer them some support.

It’s initiatives like these that can produce the breakthrough technologies we need to get interstellar exploration off the ground.

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Bigelow Aerospace accelerates station plans

17 12 2010

Sundancer, Bigelow Aerospace's proposed first habitable module. (Credit: Bigelow Aerospace)

Recently, two companies have arisen to challenge Bigelow Aerospace’s  domination of the commercial space station market.  Now, quietly, Bigelow has fired back where it hurts most: Timeframe.

It seems that the first to get a station to orbit will be in a position to pluck the ripest government and corporate space station user contracts.  In this light, Bigelow faces serious, direct competition against the likes of Excalibur Almaz of the British Isles and Russia’s Orbital Technologies, who have each come out and declared a target year of 2015 for launch and deployment of their own stations.

While before the economic collapse Bigelow’s target launch date for Sundancer was 2010, it should come as no surprise that Bigelow’s more recent target date for lofting human-habitable modules was also 2015.

Now, only a few months after Almaz and Orbital Tech announced their station plans, a quick check of Bigelow Aerospace’s Sundancer module page now lists 2014 as their targeted launch date.  Because Bigelow already has hardware built and launched, I believe them when they shift up a timetable.  The operations and capabilities of Excalibur Almaz and Orbital Technologies are a little more nebulous – I imagine their 2015 date is being optimistic.

Will either be able to up the ante on Bigelow and declare a 2013 target launch date?  Time will tell.  However, any competition that can accelerate the deployment of additional destinations in space, even by only a year, is fantastic in my book.

Ad Astra, space station manufacturers.  Ad Astra.





New UK Space Agency launched

24 03 2010

New UK Space Agency's logo. Credit: UK Space Agency Caption: Triple Redundancy

Yesterday, the United Kingdom (UK)announced a new, restructured space agency conspicuously called the UK Space Agency, which replaces the older British National Space Centre and is slated to open its doors by April 1st.  Including a new International Space Innovation Centre, the UK Space Agency is intended to take responsibility of UK government space activity, serve as a hub for all UK civilian space activity, and foster a new national space technology strategy. 

Perhaps this signals a renewed commitment to space exploration activity on the part of the UK?

The old British National Space Centre website has been reconfigured to transition to the new UK Space Agency website on April 1st.  Until then, we’ll just have to wait to see whether this announcement represents real change or is merely a change in title…








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