A Strategic Roadmap to Centauri

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L. Johnson; D. Harris; A. Trausch; G. L. Matloff; T. Taylor; K. Cutting (2005), JBIS, 58, 316-325

Refcode: 2005.58.316
Keywords: Interplanetary propulsion, space manufacturing, space fabrication, space resources, space colonization, interstellar travel

This paper discusses the connectivity between in-space propulsion and in-space fabrication/repair and is based upon a workshop presentation by Les Johnson, manager of the In-Space Propulsion (ISP) Technology Project at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Alabama. Technologies under study by ISP include aerocapture, advanced solar- electric propulsion, solar-thermal propulsion, advanced chemical propulsion, tethers and solar-photon sails. These propulsion systems are all approaching technology readiness levels (TRLs) at which they can be considered for application in space- science and exploration missions. Historically, human frontiers have expanded as people have learned to “live-off-the-land” in new environments and to exploit local resources. With this expansion, frontier settlements have required development of transportation improvements to carry tools and manufactured products to and from the frontier. It is demonstrated how ISP technologies will assist in the development of the solar-system frontier. In-space fabrication and repair will both require and assist the development of ISP propulsion systems, whether humans choose to settle planetary surfaces or to exploit resources of small Solar System bodies. As was true for successful terrestrial pioneers, in-space settlement and exploitation will require sophisticated surveys of inner and outer Solar System objects. ISP technologies will contribute to the success of these surveys, as well as to the efforts to retrieve Solar System resources. In a similar fashion, the utility of ISP products will be greatly enhanced by the technologies of in-space repair and fabrication. As in-space propulsion, fabrication and repair develop, human civilization may expand well beyond the Earth. In the future, small human communities (preceded by robotic explorers) may utilize these techniques to set sail for the nearest stars.

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