CHOCOLATE, marshmallows and basalt rock aren't normally associated with interstellar travel. But all were involved in recent tests of DE-STAR, a laser technology that might, one day, propel spaceships bound for the stars.
It is just one of the ideas presented last week at Icarus Interstellar's
Dreams of interstellar travel are nothing new, and many still think that they will remain just that. But the non-profit Icarus Interstellar group, formed in 2009 from the ashes of a similar 1970s effort, Project Daedalus, say that several factors make such an ambitious goal worth reconsidering now.
Firstly, from SpaceX to
There's also new interest in deep space thanks to
More immediately, short-term applications for several starship technologies are emerging that could provide the initial funding needed to get interstellar projects off the ground. "I can't think of any scientific endeavour involving more long-range, high-risk/high-reward challenges than this, many of which could enrich and transform present-day civilisation enormously," says
DE-STAR, short for Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids and Exploration, is a case in point. As its name suggests, the initial goal is to put an array of infrared lasers in Earth orbit. The idea is to produce a beam that is both focused and powerful enough to annihilate asteroids and space debris – or at least vaporise sections of them to provide a thrust that pushes them out of the way of a collision with Earth, or precious satellites.
In recent lab tests (see picture, left),
Interstellar travel won't use vaporisation, though. Instead, the lab-sized laser could be scaled up and launched into orbit as part of an array whose rays could then be beamed at an interstellar craft. Just as a solar sail is propelled by reflecting photons from the sun, a mirror on the starship would reflect the laser light and accelerate the craft.
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