Archive for August 4, 2010

Flying Close To Another Sun   48 comments

Project Icarus ~ Flying Close To Another Star


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Icarus and Daedalus in Mythology

Icarus and Daedalus were characters from ancient Greek mythology. Icarus’s father Daedalus was a famous architect, inventor and master craftsman. In order to escape imprisonment by King Minos of Crete Daedalus built wings for himself and Icarus, out of feathers, held together with wax. Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun, as it would melt his wings, and not too close to the sea, as it would dampen them and make it hard to fly. Caught in the thrill of flying successfully from Crete Icarus became careless. He flew too close to the sun god Helios, “touching the sky” and the wax holding his wings together melted in the heat and he fell to his death drowning in the Icranian Sea, which was named after him. 

img_01Purpose of Project Icarus 

Project Icarus is a joint initiative with the Tau Zero Foundation and British Interplanetary Society (BIS). The aim of Project Icarus is to design and power an Interstellar probe to “touch the stars” and escape the boundaries of Earth. Over 30 years has now passed since its predecessor, the Daedalus Project. This was a BIS project in late 1970’s conducted over several years, to design an interstellar probe for a flyby mission to Barnards Star. In light of scientific and technological advances the time has come to re-assess the unique concept of the Daedalus design in the hope that such studies will bring closer the day when mankind reaches out to the stars.

Without such an assessment it is difficult to realistically project when and what might be possible, and exactly what will be involved to make it possible. The Project Daedalus study will inject a much needed dose of reality into what was previously nothing more than speculation on interstellar probes/travel. And whilst still at the design stage the Project Icarus concept is its successor that Tau Zero Foundation and BIS scientists are working on.


Project Daedalus

      • Began January 1973 as a study to determine the feasibility of Interstellar Space Flight
      • It was concluded in 1978 that Interstellar flight was possible
      • It would be powered by fusion rockets using radio-active pellets (Deutrium and Helium-3)
      • And ignited by electronic beams to create plasma to push Daedalus through space
      • Helium-3’s rarity on Earth would have meant 20 years of mining from Jupiter’s atmosphere by hot air balloon – supported by robotic factories
      • Designed to accelerate for approximately 4 years until speeds 12% speed of light were achieved, then to spend the next 46 years cruising

Project Icarusheader_3

      • 5 year design study that began 30 September 2009 with aim of creating a credible interstellar probe and supporting the vision of manned space exploration. 
      • Icarus has two design power options:

  1.     Fusion Propulsion Engines:

Microwaves would be used to heat plasma to approximately 600 million degrees. This would fuse hydrogen nuclei to create Helium and the hot charged particles it produced would provide the necessary thrust. Presently the engineering necessary to set off a fusion reaction is unrealistically high, but Icarus designers are considering an experimental plasma engine ~ Vasimi. Besides demonstrating the concept it could also reduce to less than 40 days, the 9 month journey to Mars.

  2.      hypothetical_antimatter_rocket_NASA's Marshall Space Flight Cenyter Antimatter driven sail for deep space mission to the Kuiper Belt Cred Hbar TechnosLLCElizabeth laguna Antimatter Propulsion Engines:

300 X more powerful than nuclear fusion reactions. The matter~antimatter reaction occurring in the antimatter engine would be the ultimate power source for Interstellar crafts. 100% mass of an Antimatter reaction is converted into energy. This releases billions of times more energy than a similar quantity of converted rocket fuel.

        • It would travel at minimum 18 per cent of the speed of light (FAST!) to the nearest star, Epsilon Eridani, an orange sun-like star ~ 10.7 light years away
        • Communicating with it would necessitate bending radio signals around the Sun.
        • This involves a process known as Gravitational Lensing where light (radio waves) are bent around massive objects like stars and galaxies. In Icarus’s case ~ THE SUN. The same effect can be seen when light passes through a prism. At the focal point the signal is drastically amplified, making communication distance between Icarus and Earth much shorter.
        • It has however been conceded that it would not be likely to launch till the end of next century and even at the above speeds still take decades to reach its destination.


There are many different approaches necessary when striving for Inter-stellar flight ranging from the apparently simple Solar Sail to the warp drives of sci fi. Project Icarus is a half-way point taking an in-depth, no holds barred look at the “edge of projected technology in the context of a realistically demanding inter-stellar mission. It is a sequel to the seminal 1978 “Project Daedalus” of the BIS.”(Marc Millis – Icarus Consultant and Former Project Manager of the NASA Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project, March 2010, and President of the Tau Zero Foundation)