The challenges are immense. At the meeting, Lubin presented his calculation that an orbiting laser array 10-kilometres wide would be needed to propel a tiny 10-kilogram craft to 2 per cent the speed of light, fast enough to escape the solar system's gravitational pull. And that's with the lasers all working together, a feat no one knows how to achieve.
Still, beam sails are regarded as the most promising tech for a starship, since solar sails have already reached space. And at the same meeting, Icarus Interstellar member
Of course, an interstellar voyage would take a lot longer, so others are focused on a fast ride, including
As well as ignoring drag forces, the huge caveat is that all this requires a fusion propulsion system, which doesn't exist – even experimental fusion systems on Earth don't yet produce more energy than they consume. But it's perhaps more likely than travel via a wormhole or warp drive (see right)– which aims to bend space-time itself to let a craft to take a shortcut.
None of this need prevent a launch, though. Also present at the meeting was
The group still needs to attach a nuclear power source. CubeSats are currently powered by batteries and solar cells, but to exit the solar system they will need a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, the fuel source for the Voyager, Apollo and Cassini missions. They used plutonium, but
For some, it's all still pie-in-the sky. "Interstellar projects require too many miracles to make it possible," says meeting attendee
But the Icarus Interstellar team remains excited, particularly by projects like
"It's our ambition to be the first spacecraft to be overtaken on the way to
Breathe in hydrogen - and fuse!
"Any single planet species is doomed to extinction – so we need ways to escape the solar system"
Laser propulsion, anyone?
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