Project Icarus: The First Unmanned Interstellar Mission - Robotic Expansion and Technological Growth

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K. F. Long (2011), JBIS, 64, 107-115

Refcode: 2011.64.107
Keywords: Icarus, interstellar flight, technology development

This paper discusses the important role of `disruptive technology' in altering the assessment on when the first unmanned interstellar probe mission is possible. Historical estimates suggest that such a mission is likely possible in the 23rd or 24th century. This paper argues that if such assessments also consider the role of high-growth exponential technology trends then in fact the first unmanned mission may be possible much earlier. The case study of a 100 year flyby space probe mission to Alpha Centauri 4.3 light years distance is examined, with an ideal cruise speed of 2,700 AU/year. Starting from an assumed mission capacity of 5 AU/year in 2020 a simple assessment shows that assuming a greater than ~8% technology growth annually in mission capacity (as measured by the attainment of cruise speed) it may be possible to launch an interstellar probe by around the year 2100. This depends upon significant and sustained science and technology research investment being made, particularly into space propulsion engineering in the near-term. This paper is a submission of the Project Icarus Study Group.

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