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Star Trekkin' to Alpha Centauri

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posted on Mar, 30 2015 @ 02:53 PM
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You call that a PROBE?! - Project Daedalus was a 1970s design for what would still be our fastest way to the stars.
So there has been some talk and articles about possible planets around our nearest neighbor. Stormbringer's thread on building a dedicated space telescope to stare at Alpha Centauri got me thinking of what would even be possible to do if we somehow did find a habitable planet possibly with life next door.

Quick Alpha Centauri fact sheet for those who don't know:

- Alpha Centauri A and B (along with the smaller red dwarf Proxima Centauri) is the closest star system to Earth, at a mere 4.3-4.5 light years (around 26.5 trillion miles).

Now how long would it take to send a unmanned probe there with present and near-future technology which is well understood* and doable within the next 50-100 years? I'll do the math so you don't have to.


By "well understood" I am ruling out things like Harold White's Alcubierre Warp Drive research.

NOTE: The speed of light equals 1.00c or 186,000 miles per second/669,600,000 miles per hour.


CURRENT TECHNOLOGY:

- At 0.10c (10% the speed of light or around 67,108,088 miles per hour) a small probe could reach it within 50 years. However, to build something that fast is daunting (but NOT impossible) at present time.

Chemical rocket propulsion:
- The fastest chemical propulsion spacecraft we've ever designed, New Horizons which will reach Pluto this summer is travelling at 0.000054c (around 34,400 miles per hour - If it were pointed at Alpha Centauri it would take about 84,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri.


Ion drive propulsion:
- The fastest ion drive spacecraft we'e ever designed and launched on a long journey, NASA's Deep Space 1 probe got up to 0.000051c (around 34,100 miles per hour so it would be about the same amount of time to Alpha Centauri just slightly longer.

- NASA's Dawn Spacecraft could in theory exceed that if its ion thrusters (which are more efficient than those which are aboard Deep Space 1) had a fuel supply to send it on a long constant journey in one direction. In theory it could get get up to 0.000089c (or about 60,000 mph) so it would take around 50,370 years to reach Alpha Centauri.

Still a long time but our first big improvement technology wise between the Deep Space 1 launched in 1998 and Dawn which was launched in 2008 almost cutting travel time in half

- VASMIR ion drives could attain speeds of 0.000167c or 111,792 miles per hour. A trip to Alpha Centauri would take about 27,014 years.

- The fastest ion drive we've created (but not yet launched) is NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) Ion Thruster which ran for 5.5 years and achieved equivalent speeds of 0.00021 or 145,000 miles per hour in ground tests. - If it were pointed at Alpha Centauri it would take about 21,440 years.

Both of these a long time but cutting travel time to around half of the previous 50,000 year figure. Continuing....

- The fastest ion drive ever operated on any spacecraft was the PPS-1350 Hall Effect Thruster on the European Space Agency's SMART-1 probe which attained 0.00002g acceleration which could in theory attain a speed of 0.00963c or 6,462,793 miles per hour if it were able to maintain constant acceleration. - If so and it were pointed at Alpha Centauri it would take about 944 years to get there.

Nuclear fission propulsion:

- AIMStar is a proposed antimatter catalyzed nuclear pulse propulsion driven spacecraft propossal designed by engineers in the 1990s at Penn State University. It would use antiproton clouds to trigger fission and fusion inside of fuel pellets. A magnetic nozzle would funnel the force from the resulting explosions. It would be capable of reaching a cruising speed of 0.0032c or around 2,146,000 miles per hour. - A trip to Alpha Centauri would take about 1,400 years.

- NASA's Nuclear Electric (NERVA)propulsion program was ended in 1972 but if properly developed a spacecraft based on NERVA (1960s nuclear rocket technology) could achieve speeds of 0.05c or around 33,530,831 miles per hour - A trip to Alpha Centauri would take around 90 years.

- Project Orion - a proposed spacecraft which would detonate small nuclear bombs behind a pusher plate would be able to attain a speed of around 0.033c or around 22,13,034,876 miles per hour. A trip to Alpha Centauri would take around 137 years.


Of course for nuclear rockets to start flying would require off Earth mining and processing of nuclear materials and launch from space as there is almost no nation who would want to take the environmental risk of launching a rocket full of plutonium from Earth even if studies show the risk is low. Also international nuclear test ban treaties would have to be modified to allow the test and use of such propulsion systems again)

Nuclear fission/fusion hybrid propulsion
- Project Longshot Developed by students at the US Naval Academy and NASA, from 1987 to 1988. Longshot was designed to be built at Space Station Freedom the precursor to the existing International Space Station. Longshot was designed solely using existing 1980s technology although some development would have been required. Fuel would be 264 tonnes of Helium-3/Deuterium pellet propellant. It would be able to attain a speed of around 0.045c or around 30,177,748 miles per hour - A trip to Alpha Centauri would take around 100 years.

Helium-3 is in abundance on the moon and we've found that comets like the one the ESA's Rosetta mission visited are rich in Deuterium so the fuel could be mined by robotic spacecraft rather than lifted up from the Earth, effectively saving money and building space resource infrastructure at the same time. Budget-wise this would probably require a massive co-ordinated international space program or a very ambitious USA spending on space in a similar percentage of federal budget what it spends on one of the military branches.

Nuclear fusion propulsion:

- Project Daedalus A study by the British Interplanetary Society between 1973 and 1978 to design an interstellar probe spacecraft with technologies of the day or not too far fetched. The rules were that the designed had to use existing or near-future technology and had to be able to reach its destination within a human lifetime. It would use fusion pulse (basically mini H-Bombs being detonated in a confined space and the force funnelled out of the back). It would be able to attain cruise speed 0.12c or 80,473,995 miles per hour. - A trip to Alpha Centauri would take about 38 years.

Now we're talking! Of course to achieve this would require MAJOR investment in the project, which by my estimate would cost between 50 billion to develop the spacecraft, drive, fuel and launch and another 100 billion over the length of the 60-100 year project - so about 1 billion a year following launch. Any takers?
edit on 30-3-2015 by JadeStar because: (no reason given)




posted on Mar, 30 2015 @ 03:00 PM
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a reply to: JadeStar

I have always been a fan of orion and daedalus.

Our chemical rockets are just silly toys compared to them.

If we want to get serious about space beyond mars we need to go nuclear.


I wonder regualy were we would be today if Orion had not been canned.
edit on 30-3-2015 by crazyewok because: (no reason given)



posted on Mar, 30 2015 @ 03:02 PM
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a reply to: JadeStar

Thanks so much for writing this up Jade. It's very inspiring (and invigorating) to know that kind of travel is within our technological grasp. And keeping in mind the progress on reducing the traveling time, it wouldn't shock me in any manner to wait 25 more years and see it reduced even further from that. We can make these big leaps, we're fully capable of it



posted on Mar, 30 2015 @ 03:04 PM
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a reply to: crazyewok

Indeed, we need to go nuclear on earth as well. Helium 3 fusion is viable, plentiful and within reach.



posted on Mar, 30 2015 @ 03:19 PM
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What about a giant accelerater? Something like Cern but on a bigger scale and built in space. Theoretically it ought to be able to launch something at near light speed?

Dont know how they'd get back though



posted on Mar, 30 2015 @ 03:24 PM
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a reply to: VoidHawk

You'd use up every atom of matter in the solar system before you were close to the necessary size. Remember that particle accelerators have to whip the particle around the loop hundreds of times to get up to speed, and depending on how fast you're trying to go, the power requirements rapidly approach infinity.
edit on 30/3/15 by SpongeBeard because: (no reason given)

edit on 30/3/15 by SpongeBeard because: (no reason given)

edit on 30/3/15 by SpongeBeard because: (no reason given)



posted on Mar, 30 2015 @ 03:25 PM
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Somehow I think we're stuck on this tiny little fragile planet for years to come. With all that space junk orbitting around us and now the talk of satellite wars makes it even worse.

God speed to all who venture into the void.



posted on Mar, 30 2015 @ 03:26 PM
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Great thread! S&F

We also need to consider a "Force Field" at those speeds, a speak of dust would be catastrophic!



posted on Mar, 30 2015 @ 03:33 PM
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Nonsense.

It's all theory and by the time it's (if) put into practice we'll all be dead.

At the "realistic" goals we have set it will take a man over a year to reach Mars.

We can dream but reality is real.



posted on Mar, 30 2015 @ 03:40 PM
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originally posted by: SpongeBeard
a reply to: VoidHawk

You'd use up every atom of matter in the solar system before you were close to the necessary size. Remember that particle accelerators have to whip the particle around the loop hundreds of times to get up to speed, and depending on how fast you're trying to go, the power requirements rapidly approach infinity.


So a few turns of copper and a spare car battery wont do it then?



posted on Mar, 30 2015 @ 03:42 PM
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originally posted by: JadeStar
... got me thinking of what would even be possible to do if we somehow did find a habitable planet possibly with life next door.





edit on 3/30/2015 by Soylent Green Is People because: (no reason given)



posted on Mar, 30 2015 @ 04:06 PM
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Once again she knocks it out of the park, to outter space


Great work piecing this together Jade, thought provoking stuff regarding our technological potentials in the near future.

While propulsion systems is better understood and more practical in current time frame; I think we need to study the fabric of space and matter, to manipulate it and in a sense fold space/time fabric to accelerate projection.

If such a thing were ever possible, we won't know unless we seek to the answer.

But in the meantime let's burn # for a boost

edit on 30-3-2015 by Elementalist because: (no reason given)



posted on Mar, 30 2015 @ 04:08 PM
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originally posted by: crazyewok
a reply to: JadeStar

I have always been a fan of orion and daedalus.

Our chemical rockets are just silly toys compared to them.

If we want to get serious about space beyond mars we need to go nuclear.


I wonder regualy were we would be today if Orion had not been canned.


Im sure we have already gone beyond nuclear.
With exactly what im not sure but you can bet its juicy!



posted on Mar, 30 2015 @ 04:23 PM
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I think chemical and ion drives might be useful for travel within a solar system, so I think they do have their uses.

Although relativistic sleeper ships might be an option in the near distant future. Who knows, you might go into hibernation aboard a ship, get to your destination only to find that warp jump ships have been in invented in the 2,000 years you've been traveling.



posted on Mar, 30 2015 @ 04:26 PM
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Excellent post.

However you have failed to mention the most powerful propulsion method discovered to date.
Place a few members of congress at the back of the rocket and ask them their opinion.
The mass of their BS onslaught will achieve a speed of .7c before their term ends.



posted on Mar, 30 2015 @ 04:48 PM
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a reply to: JadeStar

I wonder if anyone has ever looked at inertial drives. They have a constant rate of acceleration and can be tuned to less than 1 to greater than 2G's. They operate electrically and can use a slo-poke or other form of small semi efficient reactor for power. The trip to Mars even would only be about 13 days. That would be 1g to the halfway point and then slowing down at 1g the rest of the way. Using 1g in space compensates for a realistic Earth gravity and does not require the use of rotating pods to produce centrifugal force. Anyway, taken to its logical limits, you should be able to get better than 90%C or a trip to AC in about 12 years. Using a 75% 1G and 25% 2G acceleration, the transit time would probably end up around 10 years.

Just a thought... we built a small experimental unit in the late 90's. It weighed about 200 pounds before I refined the drive process. But I could stand on the original prototype and it could carry a 220lb load across the floor (me). We should have built a flying saucer LOL.

Cheers - Dave
edit on 3/30.2015 by bobs_uruncle because: didn't like some characters



posted on Mar, 30 2015 @ 04:50 PM
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Is a 38 year trip even feasible? We're talking 38 years to arrive and execute it's initial programming, another 9 years to send data back, analyze it, and send followup instructions, and then another 9 for the next set. That's a 56 year mission, more if we move the probe around the solar system. Even if we could get the probe there it seems to me like the transmission delay makes the entire thing unworkable.

If I were going to create a project like this I would think you would want to give the probe an AI that's capable of deciding what it should do and where it should go, plotting it's own course once near Alpha Centauri. That way we could remove the issue with transmitting instructions. Such a thing would require a more advanced AI than we currently have though.



posted on Mar, 30 2015 @ 05:02 PM
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Great post, Jade. SnF! I agree that it's time we really get serious about long distance Space travel and you've laid out the options nicely.



posted on Mar, 30 2015 @ 05:35 PM
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a reply to: JadeStar
Either :

A. "Nominal" faster than light is not possible in which case forget exploring the "stars" (a massive waste of time dreaming) we are stuck within our own solar ystem.
or
B. Faster than light is possible, in which case forget research into sub light rocket propulsion ( a massive waste of resources) and design FTL drives so we can explore the universe.

It seems to me that we need to answer this question first : Is it possible, and has been demonstrated, to move an object between two points at a speed that in normal space-time appears faster than light. NB the opposite question also applies : Has it been demonstrated, beyond all reasonable doubt, that FTL travel is not possible. Q1 could be answered before the "Ultimate Book of Physics" is complete. Q2 can only be answered if either Q1 is answered OR the "Ultimate Book of Physics" is complete.



posted on Mar, 30 2015 @ 06:01 PM
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a reply to: JadeStar

Daedalus doesn't look like it has any braking system, so it's hitting alpha centauri at 80m mph?

That's a great introduction to any life there lol




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