DARPA Wants Your Ideas for a 100-Year Starship

by Nancy Atkinson on May 20, 2011

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Will humanity one day boldly go... somewhere? Credit: Paramount.

The idea for a 100-year starship has been tossed around recently, and now DARPA the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has put out a Request for Information (RFI) looking for ideas about how a long-term human mission to boldly go out to the stars could possibly happen. It’s been estimated that such a mission would cost over $10 billion, and the idea has gotten $100,000 from NASA and $ 1 million from DARPA – which means that as of now it is just that, an idea.

Pete Worden, the Director of NASA’s Ames Research Center announced the idea last fall, and it received plenty of coverage, but not much publicized research on how the idea could possibly come to fruition. Worden optimistically said he expected to see the first prototype of a new propulsion system within the next few years, but that seem unlikely given NASA’s frozen budget and a Congress that doesn’t seem very forward-looking in their vision for what NASA should be doing. But perhaps DARPA’s input could have some leverage.

There would be several technological obstacles to overcome, such as how to create an artificial gravity so that those aboard the ship wouldn’t experience the muscle and bone loss that astronauts on the ISS have after just six months in space. Then there’s how to manufacture food, and create other things the crew might need while they are out in the middle of nowhere. Those are just a few examples of what would need to be dealt with.

But anyway, a journey starts with a single step, and so if you’ve got any ideas, here’s DARPA’s RFI (hurry, you’ve only got until June 3, 2011!):

DARPA is seeking ideas for an organization, business model and approach appropriate for a self-sustaining investment vehicle in support of the 100 Year StarshipTM Study. The 100 Year StarshipTM Study is a project seeded by DARPA to develop a viable and sustainable model for persistent, long-term, private-sector investment into the myriad of disciplines needed to make long-distance space travel practicable and feasible. The genesis of this study is to foster a rebirth of a sense of wonder among students, academia, industry, researchers and the general population to consider “why not” and to encourage them to tackle whole new classes of research and development related to all the issues surrounding long duration, long distance spaceflight. DARPA contends that the useful, unanticipated consequences of such research will have benefit to the Department of Defense and to NASA, and well as the private and commercial sector. The information obtained will be used for planning and acquisition strategy development. DARPA will use the information obtained as a result of this RFI on a non-attribution basis. Providing data and information that is limited or restricted for use by the Government for that purpose would be of very little value and the inclusion of such restricted/limited data/information is discouraged. Responses as a single file in Adobe PDF electronic format can be submitted to 100YSS@darpa.mil by 12:00 pm (noon) Eastern Time, Friday, June 3, 2011. For complete details of this notice, please refer to the attachment, “RFI – 100 Year Starship Study“.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Wayne Smith May 21, 2011 at 3:20 AM

From: “Wayne Smith” Add sender to ContactsTo: 100YSS@darpa.milHello Darpa,

I think you should take a look at Robert Zubrins space brake.

It didn’t work as intended. Originally it was supposed to be a solar sail composed of an electromagnetic field. However, it produced too much drag against the interstellar medium. Thus it acted more as a braking system than a solar sail.

I’m picturing a long ship with electromagnetic field generators all along its length. Each switched on in sequence to create a wave pattern and push space hydrogen behind the ship. Just like a moving crowd wave at a football stadium. The fields stretching miles into space.

Yes, it would probably be lethal to humans. Might have to put them in a habitation module on a tether strung several miles behind.

Ask Rob about it. He acts a bit strangely sometimes but he knows his stuff.

http://www.robertzubrin.com

I gave him his domain name years ago. Say I said hi.

All the best,
Wayne Smith.
http://www.universedaily.com

Wayne Smith May 21, 2011 at 3:24 AM

From: “Wayne Smith” Add sender to ContactsTo: 100YSS@darpa.milHello Darpa,

I think you should take a look at Robert Zubrins space brake.

It didn’t work as intended. Originally it was supposed to be a solar sail composed of an electromagnetic field. However, it produced too much drag against the interstellar medium. Thus it acted more as a braking system than a solar sail.

I’m picturing a long ship with electromagnetic field generators all along its length. Each switched on in sequence to create a wave pattern and push space hydrogen behind the ship. Just like a moving crowd wave at a football stadium. The fields stretching miles into space.

Yes, it would probably be lethal to humans. Might have to put them in a habitation module on a tether strung several miles behind.

Ask Rob about it. He acts a bit strangely sometimes but he knows his stuff.

http://www.robertzubrin.com

I gave him his domain name years ago. Say I said hi.

All the best,
Wayne Smith.
http://www.universedaily.com

Wayne Smith May 21, 2011 at 3:26 AM

Oh dear. There seems to be some kind of glitch. The first post vanished mysteriously so ofcourse I reposted it. Now its posting the same thing over and over. Cheap host provider I guess.

LOL.

IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE May 21, 2011 at 4:43 AM

You’re probably using a MAC, I guess. ;-)

Anonymous May 21, 2011 at 6:20 AM

No attribution? greedy. Give info so rich defense contractors can get even richer with free slave labor, the *least* they could do is give attribution. Take a hike, they have an attitude problem.

Anonymous May 21, 2011 at 4:37 PM

Why travel when we should telecommute?

We should instead concentrate our efforts into trying to discover the communication plane that advanced civilizations or entities are using to communicate with each other. Once we tap that we will have a infinite amount of knowledge available to us. We will be able to interact with others via shared virtual realms.

Jorge

Anonymous May 22, 2011 at 12:09 AM

So, you’ve no interest in places where ETs aren’t known to exist…?

And in the absence of FTL communications, even what you propose has limits.

Anonymous May 22, 2011 at 12:58 PM

That’s the problem with current state communication methods way too limited to produce any real results in the detection of advanced alien worlds or even worse in trying to establish communication with them. The key to what I’m saying is pushing research in that direction to find that “communication plane”. I give you that the space cowboy idea is much more romantic that I’m proposing but the payoff for this would be huge.

Anonymous May 22, 2011 at 2:42 PM

The main issue or problem with faster than light communications or travel is that you need to communicate across or cross an event horizon. The universe as a whole is of this nature. This gets into some very subtle issues of quantum gravity, which for the sake of brevity I will skip for now. However, if you want to teleport your quantum information to some very distant region of the universe faster than light you need to enter into a black hole, so the black hole quantum teleports your quantum information non-locally elsewhere in some encrypted form. This means you are a form of Hawking radiation that contains this information in some transformed or quantum encrypted form. It behooves you to have a decryption system at the destination point. You can of course teleport yourself with the decryption algorithmic system, but this gets into some funny issues involving the foundations of computation and mathematics.

LC

Anonymous May 22, 2011 at 3:05 PM

LC you bring up some excellent points. It all goes back to the fact that our current understanding of physics is not there yet(agreed and understood). Someday we will get there and I like to think that we will not be limited to our own universe.

Jorge

William May 21, 2011 at 5:32 PM

10 billion!? They forgot to add 2 zeroes, if not 3.

Potatoswatter May 21, 2011 at 6:33 PM

Most all these comments assume that 100 years refers to the interstellar voyage time. It is the timescale that the project is supposed to take to produce results.

This whole thing stinks of cluelessness. The RFI glosses over the project goals entirely; it is about

This endeavor will require an understanding of questions such as: how do organizations evolve and maintain focus and momentum for 100 years or more; what models have supported long term technology development; what resources and financial structures have initiated and sustained prior settlements of “new worlds?”

To find out what they are actually after, you have to go to their website and watch their smarmy “conversation” video, because they neglected to set down in writing elsewhere that the goal is interstellar settlement, not exploration.

Here’s are some hints: Organizations survive for 100 years by being useful and successful. Many have done it. The capitalist economic model proven superior for long-term technology development. It is better not to ask about settlement of “sustained prior settlements of new worlds” because all past human experience involved genocidal invasion forces.

Seriously, all these questions are answered by a typical grade-school education. The answers just aren’t the ones they’re looking for. A million dollars is way too much to give such denialist idiots. And to lose focus before starting and ask how to set up an economic model… just scary.

Potatoswatter May 21, 2011 at 6:33 PM

Most all these comments assume that 100 years refers to the interstellar voyage time. It is the timescale that the project is supposed to take to produce results.

This whole thing stinks of cluelessness. The RFI glosses over the project goals entirely; it is about

This endeavor will require an understanding of questions such as: how do organizations evolve and maintain focus and momentum for 100 years or more; what models have supported long term technology development; what resources and financial structures have initiated and sustained prior settlements of “new worlds?”

To find out what they are actually after, you have to go to their website and watch their smarmy “conversation” video, because they neglected to set down in writing elsewhere that the goal is interstellar settlement, not exploration.

Here’s are some hints: Organizations survive for 100 years by being useful and successful. Many have done it. The capitalist economic model proven superior for long-term technology development. It is better not to ask about settlement of “sustained prior settlements of new worlds” because all past human experience involved genocidal invasion forces.

Seriously, all these questions are answered by a typical grade-school education. The answers just aren’t the ones they’re looking for. A million dollars is way too much to give such denialist idiots. And to lose focus before starting and ask how to set up an economic model… just scary.

Anonymous May 22, 2011 at 5:33 AM

Yep, 40 years ago, computers were a million times slower, 25,000 times larger and about a million times more expensive. Fast forward 40 years and you will have a PC equivalent that can has the processing power of all the computers at the three largest companies in the world , costs $0.10 and is the size of your fingernail probably embedded in your body. Technological improvement increases at an increasing rate. Check out the Time Magazine article on The Singularity. This is where the human race is headed with technology.

Robert Johnson May 22, 2011 at 12:10 PM

A 100-year starship project is a great idea. Interstellar travel will revolutionize our perception about the universe. Seeking for new worlds and new civilizations. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysTMByWXphQ

Torbjörn Larsson May 22, 2011 at 9:10 PM

Encouraging that some projects and people, including commenters, take the long view. I hope the goal of exploration will happen anyway. I’m a great fan of colonizing the Oort clouds between the stars; the whole galaxy* is open for by technology and seed cost** within our reach.

But anything that attempts to inspire (and learn new stuff in the proceed) gets my vote!

————
* Modulo the planets deep in the bothersome gravity wells, but who needs those anyway? =D

** If it is going to happen, it better be positive ROI anyway. NEOs may give returns from mining rare elements, and the know how of closed mini-biosphere long term habitats as well.

Robert Youngren May 23, 2011 at 2:13 PM

Are we not already living on the ultimate, self sustaining space ship possible? Our own planet? Seems like one of the best approaches for a millennium duration mission (one way) would be to terraform a small moon in our Solar System, build a massive engine into the crust and rocket or sail off into the stars on the terraformed moon. The ideal solution would be if we had a way to steer our own solar system to put us in near proximity of neighboring star systems that had potential to be habitable. Obviously this would be out of the question, huge amounts of energy, control and unthinkable engineering, so next best would be a terraformed moon or hollowed out moon with sustainable atmosphere inside.

Jim Andrello May 24, 2011 at 2:17 PM

Phase 1: Pick a proto-planet
Phase 2: Colonize one side
Phase 3: Build fusion bomb, anti-matter, etc. propulsion system on other side.

Justin Hartberger May 24, 2011 at 5:08 PM

I like these ideas about using moons and what not, but you fail to mention how they would keep such a ‘ship’ habitable. That would present another whole set of complications and engineering challenges. Once that little ark leaves the Earth and passes out of the habitable zone, it’s going to need a lot to keep its biosphere sustainable.

If we were to go the route of the using an existing asteroid or moon (what planet would we hijack this moon from? what complications could this cause for the other moons in the system we removed it from?) it would really be better off to go for the hollowed out approach. This has multiple benefits in that we receive all the raw materials that were inside it, plus you could then use the outer rock as shielding from radiation and small impacts. The main issues there are that this would still not fully solve the reduced gravity problem (even our own moon, one of the largest in the solar system, is not massive enough), plus the power requirements needed for all the safety, navigation, and climate control equipment.

Those are all interesting and everything…but I think at this point we would want to focus more on an actual type of ship. We already have plenty of knowledge about such things without throwing unknowns regarding the viability of a space rock to use in there. You can also almost completely negate any gravity problems with a ship designed to spin pretty close to 1g either in its entirety, or even just the habitable areas of the ship. The known problem there is nausea, but with a large enough circle, the effect is rather minor.

Anonymous May 25, 2011 at 3:29 AM

Assuming that the ship could average 10% of light speed, with a cruising duration of 100 years (10%C is too slow for significant time dilation) that gives it a range of 10 light years. There are only 7 stars or star systems (4 single stars, 2 binary systems and one possible triple system) within that range, and several of these are flare stars. At present, none of them look like attractive places for canned primates to visit, though robot probes may find planets where life can exist. This study is best considered as a theoretical exercise, as, at the moment, the money would be better spent on robot probes to see if there is any actual MISSION for the 100-year generational starship.

John William Cornett May 27, 2011 at 2:43 AM

The “inverse gravity” problem/concern has already been solved by John Searl….is anybody listening?

Kai ? Cataldo May 27, 2011 at 2:56 PM

gravity would best be simulated by constant 1g accelleration/decelleration, is relegates weightlessness to smaller intervals (manuvering) and avoids making a rotating system that could fail in transit… just saying.

Stargazer May 31, 2011 at 1:46 AM

Darpa, go see the dark hats (illuminaties). They have anti gravity crafts handy. Case closed

allen r June 1, 2011 at 10:35 PM

If the defense (War) department is studying this human Noah’s ark then can global annihilation be far off?

brenda butler June 2, 2011 at 12:47 PM

while i was with gary,,,my earthly contact..yes i am an abductee..gary told me that their ship was run on time propulsion..they might try to create that..bren

Anonymous May 22, 2011 at 6:01 PM

I doubt this will ever be technology as such. I mean realistically I would be hesitant to jump into a black hole and get scrambled up down to the level of quarks and leptons by the interior singularity. This is necessary so the quantum information that composes me is reconstituted non-locally from the Hawking radiation that is emitted by the black hole in the far future and then teleported to some region in space backwards in time. It would take a bit of temerity to make that jump!

These are the sort of thing science fiction writers did play with, sometimes in funny ways. These ideas did sort of serve at theoretical probes of our physical concepts. However, I doubt we will ever be warp-driving, time traveling, and worm-holing around the universe.

LC

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