Sizing-Up the Daedalus Interstellar Spacecraft
Project Daedalus was an ambitious 5-year study carried out in the 1970s by the British Interplanetary Society (BIS). Its main objective was to research the viability of building the first spaceship that would make the trek to the nearby Barnard's Star, some six light-years from Earth. Traveling to another star requires lots of energy. This in turn requires novel propulsion techniques and lots of fuel. "Daedalus was to be a two stage spacecraft, with stage one carrying 46,000 tonnes of fuel and stage two carrying 4000 tonnes," says Richard Obousy, Tau Zero Foundation member and Project Icarus leader, in the Discovery News article "Project Daedalus: A Plan for an Interstellar Mission." Want to know what the Daedalus concept looks like? Browse this exclusive Discovery News slide show to compare this groundbreaking project with other man made structures...
Daedalus vs. The Empire State Building
Although Barnard's Star is in our cosmic back yard, six light-years is a long way to go, meaning relativistic speeds are required. "After a total boost phase of nearly four years, it would be traveling at its top speed of 12.2 percent the speed of light, and would reach its target in 50 years," says Obousy.
Daedalus vs. St. Paul's Cathedral
This intergalactic behemoth was designed to be an unmanned probe so it can gather important data about its target star system and then beam its findings back to Earth. Unfortunately, it wasn't designed to enter orbit around its target star; Daedalus cannot slow down and will zoom past Barnard's Star in a matter of days.
Daedalus vs. Saturn V
The Daedalus Interstellar Spaceship was designed to use Helium-3 as its fuel. Helium-3 pellets would ignite, generating energetic fusion explosions. The exhaust from these explosions would propel Daedalus across interstellar space. Unfortunately, Helium-3 is rare and mining of celestial bodies in the solar system would be required. "The Daedalus mission involved a plan to mine the atmosphere of Jupiter," says Obousy. "This requirement in itself indicates the need for a vast solar system-wide civilization with abundant capabilities and a massive space-based infrastructure, and so makes the challenge of building a 'Daedalus Class' spacecraft great."
Daedalus vs. Saturn V
Although difficult, Project Daedalus proved that given sufficient ambition, an interstellar spacecraft could be built using current technology and credible science. And now, the Tau Zero Foundation is continuing where Project Daedalus left off. Project Icarus began on Sept. 30th, 2009, re-examining the problem of interstellar propulsion thirty years later. More from the Tau Zero Foundation: Tau Zero Takes Aim at Interstellar Propulsion Project Daedalus: A Plan for an Interstellar Mission