Swarm of laser-sail spacecraft leaving the solar system. Credit: Adrian Mann

Swarm of laser-sail spacecraft leaving the solar system.
Credit: Adrian Mann

 

The first international contest to let students shape the future of interstellar travel is underway.

The competition comes courtesy of a successful Kickstarter campaign and the Initiative for Interstellar Studies (i4is).

Credit: I4IS

Credit: I4IS

Called Project Dragonfly, this feasibility study is shaped around the concept of dispatching small spacecraft to another star, propelled by a laser beam. The goal is to robotically explore exoplanets, other star systems, the interstellar medium and discover potential life.

Cubesats, solar sails

For some 50 years, a variety of approaches for going to the stars have made use of large and heavy spacecraft, making use of nuclear propulsion systems, for example nuclear fusion or antimatter.

A good dose of wishful thinking also seemed part of the propulsion package!

The results from the Project Dragonfly competition are meant to serve as a basis for future technology development and achieve an interstellar mission. With the increasing interest in cubesats and solar sails, this is becoming ever more likely, observes the i4is.

Workshop presentations

The Dragonfly Workshop is now planned for July 3, and will be held at, befittingly, the British Interplanetary Society headquarters in London, England.

Credit: I4IS

Credit: I4IS

Four student teams have submitted their design proposals for an interstellar laser-propelled mission and are now being reviewed by the i4is Technical Research Committee and an external number of interstellar experts.

The teams are from: the University of California Santa Barbara; the Technical University of Munich; Cairo University and Cranfield University, both of which partnered with the Skolkovo Institute of Science & Technology and Paul Sabatier University.

Representatives from each team will be presenting their designs at the workshop.

 

Speed up the search

Organizing Project Dragonfly as an international design competition is intended “to speed up our search for a feasible mission to another star, based on technologies of the near future,” explains, Andreas Hein, Deputy Director i4is, and Project Lead Dragonfly.

Project Dragonfly builds upon the recent trend of miniaturization of space systems. Sail technology would be illuminated by a laser beam from a laser power station somewhere in the solar system. The photons of the laser beam push the sail, similar to the wind pushing a sail of a sail ship. And by pushing the sail, the spacecraft slowly accelerates. However, as the spacecraft does not use any on-board fuel, it can accelerate to very high velocities in the range of several percent of the speed of light.

To keep a supportive eye on the work of the Initiative for Interstellar Studies, go to:

http://www.i4is.org/

Also, check out this instructive video on their efforts by going to:

https://d2pq0u4uni88oo.cloudfront.net/projects/1644621/video-524287-h264_high.mp4

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