To achieve interstellar travel, the Kline Directive instructs us to be bold, to explore what others have not, to seek what others will not, to change what others dare not. To extend the boundaries of our knowledge, to advocate new methods, techniques and research, to sponsor change not status quo, on 5 fronts:
1. Legal Standing. 2. Safety Awareness. 3. Economic Viability. 4. Theoretical-Empirical Relationship. 5. Technological Feasibility.
Interstellar Challenge Matrix (Partial Matrix)
|Propulsion Mechanism||Legal?||Costs Estimates|
|Conventional Fuel Rockets:||Yes||Greater than US$1.19E+14|
|Antimatter Propulsion:||Do Not Know.||Between US$1.25E+20 and US$6.25E+21|
|Atomic Bomb Pulse Detonation:||Illegal. This technology was illegal as of 1963 per Partial Test Ban Treaty||Between $2.6E12 and $25.6E12 . These are Project Orion original costs converted back to 2012 dollar. Requires anywhere between 300,000 and 30,000,000 bombs!!|
|Time Travel:||Do Not Know.||Requires Exotic Matter, therefore greater than antimatter propulsion costs of US$1.25E+20|
|Quantum Foam Based Propulsion:||Do Not Know.||Requires Exotic Matter, therefore greater than antimatter propulsion costs of US$1.25E+20|
|Small Black Hole Propulsion:||Most Probably Illegal in the Future||Using CERN to estimate. At least US$9E+9 per annual budget. CERN was founded 58 years ago in 1954. Therefore a guestimate of the total expenditure required to reach its current technological standing is US$1.4E11.|
Note Atomic Bomb numbers were updated on 10/18/2012 after Robert Steinhaus commented that costs estimates “are excessively high and unrealistic”. I researched the topic and found Project Orion details the costs, of $2.6E12 to $25.6E12, which are worse than my estimates.
These costs are humongous. The Everly Brothers said it the best.
Let’s step back and ask ourselves the question, is this the tool kit we have to achieve interstellar travel? Are we serious? Is this why DARPA — the organization that funds many strange projects — said it will take more than a 100 years? Are we not interested in doing something sooner? What happened to the spirit of the Kline Directive?
From a space exploration perspective economic viability is a strange criterion. It is not physics, neither is it engineering, and until recently, the space exploration community has been government funded to the point where realistic cost accountability is nonexistent.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not about agreeing to a payment scheme and providing the services as contracted. Government contractors have learned to do that very well. It is about standing on your own two feet, on a purely technology driven commercial basis. This is not an accounting problem, and accountants and CFOs cannot solve this. They would have no idea where to start. This is a physics and engineering problem that shows up as an economic viability problem that only physicists and engineers can solve.
The physics, materials, technology and manufacturing capability has evolved so much that companies like Planetary Resources, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences Corp, Virgin Galactic, and the Ad Astra Rocket Company are changing this economic viability equation. This is the spirit of the Kline Directive, to seek out what others would not.
So I ask the question, whom among you physicist and engineers would like to be engaged is this type of endeavor?
But first, let us learn a lesson from history to figure out what it takes. Take for example DARPA funding of the Gallium Arsenide. “One of DARPA’s lesser known accomplishments, semiconductor gallium arsenide received a push from a $600-million computer research program in the mid-1980s. Although more costly than silicon, the material has become central to wireless communications chips in everything from cellphones to satellites, thanks to its high electron mobility, which lets it work at higher frequencies.”
In the 1990s Gallium Arsenide semiconductors were so expensive that “silicon wafers could be considered free”. But before you jump in and say that is where current interstellar propulsion theories are, you need to note one more important factor.
The Gallium Arsenide technology had a parallel commercially proven technology in place, the silicon semiconductor technology. None of our interstellar propulsion technology ideas have anything comparable to a commercially successful parallel technology. (I forgot conventional rockets. Really?) A guesstimate, in today’s dollars, of what it would cost to develop interstellar travel propulsion given that we already had a parallel commercially proven technology, would be $1 billion, and DARPA would be the first in line to attempt this.
Given our theoretical physics and our current technological feasibility, this cost analysis would suggest that we require about 10 major technological innovations, each building on the other, before interstellar travel becomes feasible.
That is a very big step. Almost like reaching out to eternity. No wonder Prof Adam Franks in his July 24, 2012 New York Times Op-Ed, Alone in the Void, wrote “Short of a scientific miracle of the kind that has never occurred, our future history for millenniums will be played out on Earth”.
Therefore, we need to communicate to the theoretical physics community that they need get off the Theory of Everything locomotive and refocus on propulsion physics. In a later blog posting I will complete the Interstellar Challenge Matrix (ICM). Please use it to converse with your physicist colleagues and friends about the need to focus on propulsion physics.
In the spirit of the Kline Directive — bold, explore, seek & change — can we identify the 10 major technological innovations? Wouldn’t that keep you awake at night at the possibility of new unthinkable inventions that will take man where no man has gone before?
PS. I was going to name the Interstellar Challenge Matrix (ICM), the Feasibility Matrix for Interstellar Travel (FMIT), then I realized that it would not catch on at MIT, and decided to stay with ICM.
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Benjamin T Solomon is the author & principal investigator of the 12-year study into the theoretical & technological feasibility of gravitation modification, titled An Introduction to Gravity Modification, to achieve interstellar travel in our lifetimes. For more information visit iSETI LLC, Interstellar Space Exploration Technology Initiative.
Solomon is inviting all serious participants to his LinkedIn Group Interstellar Travel & Gravity Modification.
11 Comments so far
And beamed propulsion?
Thanks John Hunt for pointing out beamed propulsion.
I left out both beamed propulsion and Chang-Diaz’s Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) because in my opinion, both are not interstellar travel technologies. Note this is my opinion, others may differ.
Here is why.
First, beamed propulsion has the fatal flaw of divergence, and so there is a limit to what you can do.
Second, VASIMR is basically a version of conventional rocket approach, and therefore the conventional rocket example is sufficient.
I do not accept the idea that conventional rockets are interstellar capable technologies, but have included them as a basis for comparison with the other technologies.
What you posted about “atomic bomb pulse detonation shows you to be an idiot. Of course, that is obvious without pointing out your more ludicrous statements.
I would like to make you aware that AEC offered to industry in the mid-1960s a 50 kt Project Plowshare device for peaceful industrial use (well development, nuclear excavation, etc.) for $50,000 dollars. Additional design work was subsequently put into small PACER fusion devices (http://www.yottawatts.net) sized between 2 kt and 50 kt that were ultra-clean burning producing over 99% of their energy from fusion and producing only non-radioactive helium as fusion nuclear waste while producing practical, reliable, and economical fusion nuclear power generation. One requirement of the bare-bones PACER devices was that the device had to have a cost less than $2,000 each to compete with conventional nuclear power generation. While no PACER devices were ever built and tested at NTS, we did test other related technology like the LLNL W70-3 LANCE missile system warhead that shares many of the features of the preliminary PACER fusion peaceful nuclear explosive (PNE) designs.
Your estimates for the costs of Atomic Bomb Pulse Detonation Propulsion are excessively high and unrealistic.
The CTBT was never ratified as a treaty by the Congress of the United States. Adherance to the CTBT is optional, but is currently observed, as part of US policy.
Peaceful nuclear explosives and fusion versions of this technology is actually specifically protected in the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The nonproliferation Treaty provides that each signatory party to this treaty is guaranteed “any
peaceful applications of nuclear explosions” on a nondiscriminatory basis (United Nations 1975, Article V).
The corresponding article reads:
Each Party to this Treaty undertakes to take appropriate
measures to ensure that, in accordance with
this Treaty, under appropriate international observation
and through appropriate international procedures,
potential benefits from any peaceful applications
of nuclear explosions will be made available to
non-nuclear-weapon States Party to this Treaty on a
nondiscriminatory basis and that the charge to such
Parties for the explosive devices used will be as low
as possible and exclude any charge for research and
development. Non-nuclear-weapon States Party to
the Treaty shall be able to obtain such benefits,
pursuant to a special international agreement or
agreements, through an appropriate international
body with adequate representation of non-nuclearweapon
States. Negotiations on this subject shall commence
as soon as possible after the Treaty enters into
force. Non-nuclear-weapon States Party to the Treaty
so desiring may also obtain such benefits pursuant to
In conclusion, there should be no insurmountable obstacles
to making a peaceful use of explosive devices in a space propulsion application under the ratified Non-proliferation Treaty.
Robert Steinhaus, pricing per DefenseNews article is based on today dollars.
There are several opposing arguments.
First, my thinking is that the AEC number of $50,000 does not take into account all the support services needed run as a purely commercial enterprise, from start to finish in today’s dollars. It is heavily dependent on tax payer subsidized manufacturing process. Further, reducing the device yield by 1,000 only increases the number of bombs required to achieve the same speed by 1,000 or more. So there goes your ‘inexpensive’ case.
Second, with regard to ‘peaceful nuclear explosives’, try exploding a ‘peaceful’ nuclear bomb in space in today’s world.
Benjamin, there are several potential solution to beam divergence. I understand that particle beams are six times more efficient than light beams. Particle beams could be made neutral to reduce divergence. Also, laser/maser beams could be made more powerful using multi-bounce approaches. Fresnel lenses could colimate the beam. Also, energy could be beamed to stations throughout the solar system which could rebeam that energy starting with a narrow beam. Beams could provide energy to an incoming probe and then for propulsion after passing the Earth. SailBeam could accelerate small sails that, at the individual sail level, would not break apart until vaporized by a laser on-board the space ship. The course of those sails could be corrected by smaller lateral beams.
Also, the smaller the craft and the longer the travel time, the more feasible beamed propulsion becomes. In theory, craft could also be launched in parts and then rendezvous while traveling.
I should also mention there is the SunDiver and MagSail approaches.
please read Absolute relativity Theory of Everything. The past, present and future all exist at the same time ( not temporal time). Look at nature first not hypothetical strings and spend decades discussing ideas about ideas about ideas!
Robert Steinhaus, thanks for disputing the costs. I researched some more and found Project Orion’s own estimates and updated for 2012 dollars.The costs are actually greater at between $2.6E12 and $25.6E12.
I must also say that this technology requires anywhere between 300,000 and 30,000,000 bombs!!
John Hunt, I like your passioned defense of beamed propulsion. Please put together some numbers, and explain your costs numbers.