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.


Personal orbital spacecraft within reach

25 08 2010

Rendering of a Boeing CST-100 capsule mated with an Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft. (Credit: Ben McGee)

Though few may realize it now, the stage is set for the first time in human history to enable someone or a small venture (with considerable financial backing) to assemble his or her own spacecraft using private, commercially-available, “off-the-shelf” spacecraft and equipment.

And I want to fly one.

The reality is that all of the current NewSpace competitors who are each scrambling to capitalize on the few orbital dollars that are out there right now have actually created a matrix of vehicles for new architectures in space.

Take my current favorite, Boeing combined with Orbital Sciences, for example.  Currently, the two companies are (directly or indirectly) pitting their CST-100 and Cygnus spacecraft, respectively, against each other in a competition for NASA crew and cargo contracts to the International Space Station.  Little do they themselves probably realize that together, the two spacecraft come very close to assembling a truly independent orbital spacecraft (see above rendering).

The CST-100 is meant to be reusable up to 10 times, (which could probably be stretched with proper maintenance,) and the Cygnus is based on tried-and-true, pressurized, and crew-capable Italian Space Agency‘s Multi-Purpose Logistics Module technology.  The seven seats aboard the CST-100 are unnecessary except for ferrying full ISS crew compliments, so why not trade out a couple of those seats for cargo or experiment package space?

Cosmonaut Yuri P. Gidzenko aboard Cygnus-predecessor MPLM Leonardo. (Credit: NASA)

While we’re at it, why not leave half of the Cygnus interior for cargo, and slide in a couple of sleep compartments and life support systems on the other side.  Couple a female-female docking adapter to the leading Cygnus docking port, (the only novel modification,) pack a small airlock on the dorsal side and a female docking port on the ventral side, and boom – you have a orbit-faring Cygnus/CST-100 hybrid.

According to this architecture, the Cygnus would remain permanently in orbit with (perhaps somewhat enhanced) station-keeping and orbital transfer capability, while the CST-100 ferries crew and light cargo to-and-from.

Anyone for orbital salvage, rescue, satellite repair, or (relatively) cheap two-person charter to the Internal Space Station or a Bigelow Module?  Here’s your ticket.  I see a business model.

Now, if only there were venture capital.  Or a reality show.  And a name.  The ships need a name.  Is it too over-the-top for the Cygnus craft to be named Daedalus and the CST-100 Icarus?  One stays aloft and the other returns?

Like the potential combinations of the many different spacecraft coming online in the next decade, the possibilities are limitless…

%d bloggers like this: