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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