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Engineer Thinks We Could Build a Real Starship Enterprise in 20 Years

Diagram of a proposed current generation of a Starship Enterprise. Credit: BuildTheEnterprise.org

In Star Trek lore, the first Constitution Class Starship Enterprise will be built by the year 2245. But today, an engineer has proposed — and outlined in meticulous detail – building a full-sized, ion-powered version of the Enterprise complete with 1G of gravity on board, and says it could be done with current technology, within 20 years. “We have the technological reach to build the first generation of the spaceship known as the USS Enterprise – so let’s do it,” writes the curator of the Build The Enterprise website, who goes by the name of BTE Dan.

This “Gen1” Enterprise could get to Mars in ninety days, to the Moon in three, and “could hop from planet to planet dropping off robotic probes of all sorts en masse – rovers, special-built planes, and satellites.”

Size comparisons of buildings to the proposed USS Enterprise. Credit: BuildTheEnterprise.org

Complete with conceptual designs, ship specs, a funding schedule, and almost every other imaginable detail, the BTE website was launched just this week and covers almost every aspect of how the project could be done. This Enterprise would be built entirely in space, have a rotating gravity section inside of the saucer, and be similar in size with the same look as the USS Enterprise that we know from Star Trek.

“It ends up that this ship configuration is quite functional,” writes BTE Dan, even though his design moves a few parts around for better performance with today’s technology. This version of the Enterprise would be three things in one: a spaceship, a space station, and a spaceport. A thousand people can be on board at once – either as crew members or as adventurous visitors.

While the ship will not travel at warp speed, with an ion propulsion engine powered by a 1.5GW nuclear reactor, it can travel at a constant acceleration so that the ship can easily get to key points of interest in our solar system. Three additional nuclear reactors would create all of the electricity needed for operation of the ship.

The saucer section would be a .3 mile (536 meter) diameter rotating, magnetically-suspended gravity wheel that would create 1G of gravity.

The first assignments for the Enterprise would have the ship serving as a space station and space port, but then go on to missions to the Moon, Mars, Venus, various asteroids and even Europa, where the ships’ laser would be used not for combat but for cutting through the moon’s icy crust to enable a probe to descend to the ocean below.

Of course, like all space ships today, the big “if” for such an ambitious effort would be getting Congress to provide NASA the funding to do a huge 20-year project. But BTE Dan has that all worked out, and between tax increases and spreading out budget cuts to areas like defense, health and human services, housing and urban development, education and energy, the cuts to areas of discretionary spending are not large, and the tax increases could be small. “These changes to spending and taxes will not sink the republic,” says the website. “In fact, these will barely be noticed. It’s amazing that a program as fantastic as the building a fleet of USS Enterprise spaceships can be done with so little impact.”

“The only obstacles to us doing it are the limitations we place on our collective imagination,” BTE Dan adds, and his proposal says that NASA will still receive funding for the science, astronomy and robotic missions it currently undertakes.

A detailed schedule of building the Enterprise. Credit: BuildTheEnterprise.org

But he proposes not just one Enterprise-class ship, but multiple ships, one of which can be built every 33 years – once per generation – giving three new ships per century. “Each will be more advanced than the prior one. Older ships can be continually upgraded over several generations until they are eventually decommissioned.”

BTE Dan, who did not respond to emails, lists himself as a systems engineer and electrical engineer who has worked at a Fortune 500 company for the past 30 years.

The website includes a blog, a forum and a Q&A section, where BTE Dan answers the question, “What if someone can prove that building the Gen1 Enterprise is beyond our technological reach?”

Answer: “If someone can convince me that it is not technically possible (ignoring political and funding issues), then I will state on the BuildTheEnterprise site that I have been found to be wrong. In that case, building the first Enterprise will have to wait for, say, another half century. But I don’t think that anyone will be able to convince me it can’t be done. My position is that we can – and should – immediately start working on it.”

For the complete space nerd experience, check out Build The Enterprise.

Hat tip to Rand Simberg.

About 

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

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • ctd1500a May 13, 2012, 1:50 PM

    Somehow to me it seems missing the boat if you have such a ship without the benefits of warp drive. Why have the two attachments on the sides that are supposed to be warp drives if there is no warp drive? Yeh it looks neat but if they do not work it seems to me to be a hugh waste of money and time.

    Lets get real creativity around here and really develope something like warp drive that can enable us to really travel to distant planets in hours not years… and distant galaxies in weeks not generations… Then lets build an Enterprise.

    • burne May 13, 2012, 2:35 PM

      Desprite being theoretical possible, warpdrive will probably never be a viable option, because it needs a lot of energy . And I mean a lot.

      Using matter/antimatter as a powersource, you can power the whole of human activity on Earth, transportation, lighting, machines, heating, cooling and so on, using 5000 kilogram matter and 5000 kilogram antimatter.

      To accelerate a single gram of matter to beyond lightspeed you would need mass equivalent to our sun and and another sun made of antimatter.

      Almost all problems related with the Alcubierre warp-drive are solvable, but its energy consumption makes it very unlikely one will ever be built.

      A video explaining the idea and giving you a heap of keywords for google:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJZXDEUOao0

      • delphinus100 May 13, 2012, 4:06 PM

        Sorry, but until and unless we find something in physics that says any forms of FTL are possible, we can say little or nothing about how much energy it would require. It might mean the Sun’s annual output…or it might only mean enough to run a toaster.

        I tell those who also whine about how ‘chemical rockets are so inadequate,’ and dream of a reactionless drive (ignoring all non-chemical rocketry), the same thing. If it’s ever possible, you can’t know the efficiency. It may be better/easier, it may not.

        At this time, we can’t really say.

        • burne May 13, 2012, 5:12 PM

          The Alcubierre warp-drive isn’t FTL, otherwise it would be incompatible with Einstein’s theories. It modifies the space around it giving the effect that it seems to be moving faster than light for somebody outside the warp-bubble. Inside the bubble you would have no sensation of movement at all.

          We know how to modify space/time. We do so every day. It takes a lot of mass or a lot of energy for any significant effect. The formula from Alcubierre actually tells us how much energy is needed. No clues on how to build the thing, but we know quite precisely how much energy is needed.

          The Alcubierre warp-drive is real in the sense that it could be done in theory and in doing so doesn’t violate any fundamental laws of physics. A reactionless drive violates conservation of momentum and conservation of energy and cannot possibly exist in this universe.

        • lcrowell May 14, 2012, 1:58 AM

          I wrote a discussion on warp drives above.

      • ctd1500a May 13, 2012, 7:41 PM

        Many German scientists said the same thing during WW2 in Germany when Hitler was trying to develope the super bomb (Atom Bomb) They thought to be effective it would require more atomic fissile materian than existed in the world to work. That was until someone figured out you do not detonate it by exploding it but rather by imploding it.

        We do not now have the know how or the technology to do something like warp drive now and it may be generations in the future but to say it will never happen is like someone from 1912 saying man will never travel to the moon and come back home alive, mankind will never travel through the air on giant airplanes accross the country and around the world.

        Be careful saying something can’t be done. Sooner or later someone propbably will.

        • burne May 13, 2012, 10:16 PM

          I’d like to be proven wrong. But, ‘das Uranverein’ failed because people didn’t understand how profound the understanding of science was at that time. Most of the theories of that era are proven to be correct to within less than 0.00000000000001% of their predicted values.

          As much as I’d like to believe in star trek warp drive, transporters, holodecks and replicators, I believe it’s not going to happen. Not in the next million years and not in this universe. (A perfect time to point you towards the theories surrounding ‘the multiverse’.)

          But, the challenge stands: PROVE ME WRONG! Please? ;)

      • lcrowell May 14, 2012, 2:00 AM

        I wrote a discussion on warp drives above.

        LC

    • lcrowell May 14, 2012, 1:57 AM

      I wrote a discussion on warp drives above.

      LC

  • GoGo Mix May 13, 2012, 3:26 PM

    i still believe we should wait for the next Star Trek series and still the ship form from there

  • Bradley Willard II May 13, 2012, 5:30 PM

    good luck

  • psycros May 13, 2012, 9:27 PM

    Everything begins with a swarm of robot probes dispatched to Mars, the moons and the asteroid belt. As soon as a handful of probes discover either rare earths, fissionables or significant amounts of precious metals, the space boom will begin overnight. Nothing but greed or desperation will lead to a permanent human presence in space or on other bodies. I’d prefer the former motivation.

  • changling May 13, 2012, 9:39 PM

    Actually this sounds like the kinds of ships United Earth (we will need that too since not just one country built them after the Eugenics Wars and World War III) first. So maybe we should work on a United Earth but not one under the dominion of a Corporate USA.

  • Steve Kuhn May 13, 2012, 9:42 PM

    Yeah I can see it now, Borg sleeping with Cardassians, Klingons sleeping with Ferengi, and everyone is getting pulled over by space cops for navigating a starship while under the influece of Romulan Ale. And of couse the ruling government would be controlled by Tribbles who resemble our current government ( Eat, Poop, Say and Do very little, accomplish nothing, yet proliferate and cost us all money).

    I think I will find me a pretty empath, grab some Latinum, and start a new civilization on a hidden class “M” moon.

  • redplanet4961 May 13, 2012, 10:47 PM

    Jason Hill,

    Right on man. What people don’t realize is that if it weren’t for dreamers we wouldn’t even be posting on here. My only regret is that our beloved Mr.Roddenberry isn’t here to witness this awesome event inspired by his creation.

  • redplanet4961 May 13, 2012, 10:49 PM

    Jason Hill,

    Right on man. What people don’t realize is that if it weren’t for dreamers we wouldn’t even be posting on here. My only regret is that our beloved Mr.Roddenberry isn’t here to witness this awesome event inspired by his creation.

  • redplanet4961 May 13, 2012, 5:51 PM

    Jason Hill,

    Right on man. What people don’t realize is that if it weren’t for dreamers we wouldn’t even be posting on here. My only regret is that our beloved Mr.Roddenberry isn’t here to witness this awesome event inspired by his creation.

  • Bariman43 May 13, 2012, 11:26 PM

    Good LORD people! A normal person with an imagination and hope for the future of this country would applaud this man for coming up with an idea that sounds awesome, even if it is impractical. You people have the imagination capacity of a brick wall. No wonder this country isn’t getting anywhere, it’s full of people whose idea of dreaming is wondering when the next paycheck is coming in. Christ’s sake people, it might be crazy but goddamn if it doesn’t sound exciting. “This man needs to get back to reality” You need to stop worrying so much about reality and have a little fantasy in your life. Humans aren’t totally built on reality. If we were, we would still be stuck on a single continent. Start dreaming, people.

  • Scott1 May 14, 2012, 1:46 AM

    Hey…. Love this. But It needs to have global cooperation in order to make it achievable. We need to have representatives from every race, culture, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and age on that ship. It can’t just be a bunch of 40 something white dudes up there. This mission needs to be inclusive.

    • Rootdown May 14, 2012, 3:13 AM

      There is not affirmative action in space.

  • lcrowell May 14, 2012, 1:54 AM

    The warp drive issue is interesting, for the Alcubierre warp space requires the source of the field to be at the sides of the warp bubble. So a ring structure or maybe the warp nacelles on a starship might be present.

    Physically the warp drive runs into a degree of trouble. This is primarily because the source for the warp drive has a negative mass-energy content. This does horrible things to physics. In particular the eigenstates of quantum mechanics are not bounded below and the vacuum is not stable.

    Physically this is a spacetime which compresses space in a region in front of the warp bubble (and by extension the spaceship) and expands space in a region trailing the bubble. If the bubble compresses a 100 meter region at the front of the bubble to 10 meters this then means the effective distance to the point A of departure and point B of arrival is reduced by 1/10. As a result if you are traveling to ?-centuri which is 4.3 light years away you effectively reduce its distance to .43 light years. So if you were traveling 8% the speed of light and you throw up this 1/10 warp bubble you then can effectively travel at 80% the speed of light. If you were moving at 50% the speed of light you then by applying the warp bubble end up moving at 5 times the speed of light.

    I told myself I would look into the case of the warp drive where the warp speed is slower than light, such as the first case I illustrate above. There might be an exception to the negative energy problem with that case. It is still the case that you have to apply a huge amount of mass-energy to curve spacetime the way you want. Also the coupling constant of gravity is 8?G/c^4 = 2.07×10^{-43}s^2/kg-m is very small, so a huge amount of mass-energy density is required to curve space. So even if physics permits a v < c warp drive the practical problems are still daunting.

    These issues are very deep, for the violations of the positive energy conditions lead to a violation of the cosmic censorship hypothesis. This is where a singularity in spacetime is cloaked by an event horizon. The string theory aspects of gravity, or other supergravity formalisms, treat the quantum modes of gravity according to a type of infinite algebra. It has also been found that some of the solutions to the Einstein field equation are equivalent to solutions of the Navier-Stokes equation (Strominger et al). The Navier-Stokes equation describes fluid motion, whether bulk fluid motion or water waves and so forth. It also turn out the Navier-Stokes equation has solutions which have isometries of the same infinite algebra in string quantum gravity. The question on the cosmic censorship hypothesis is then equivalent to the unsolved problem on the stability of solutions to the Navier-Stokes equation. There is a $million prize at ClayMath for a proof or disproof of the conjecture such solutions are stable.

    LC

    • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE May 14, 2012, 1:27 PM

      There is a $million prize at ClayMath for a proof or disproof of the conjecture such solutions are stable.

      Have you ever considered trying for that prize yourself, Mr. Crowell?

      • lcrowell May 14, 2012, 6:40 PM

        Even if you exchange the Mr for Dr and do research and so forth, it may not be enough to solve this problem. The most I think I can do is to publish something which might be referenced by those who do actually work this proof. I did get honorable mention for a paper I wrote on gravitation

        http://www.gravityresearchfoundation.org/announcements.html

        which I learned about this morning. Yet this is a far cry from winning a ClayMath award. Some of the work I am doing right now might fit into a proof, but to really prove this will require hard work on nonlinear differential equations on a level that is beyond what I know.

        LC

  • J May 14, 2012, 2:09 AM

    if he says it can get to mars in 90 days, how the hell is that not practical? Currently it takes 6 months to a year for stuff to get there. This way we can take a lot more equipment there that normally would not even have a chance of going.

  • Adam Crowl May 14, 2012, 9:01 AM

    Unfortunately the current design figures are wrong. The Gen1 Enterprise won’t work as hoped. All hope is not lost – the Enterprise is a pretty good design. So how can we make it work? What does it need to get to Mars in 90 days? 2.5 GW of rocket power isn’t enough for the job if the launch mass is 84,822 tons as advertised. Might just do it if the mass is more like 8,482.2 tons or pushing the reactor output higher.

    Undoubtedly a working design can be developed, but this first draft needs more work.

  • Kawarthajon May 14, 2012, 2:36 PM

    Since every one else is putting in my two cents, so will I.

    This project is totally a fantasy for 3 reasons:

    1) The Star Trek ship is probably not the ideal shape and configuration for an actual spaceship. Let the engineers work that one out.

    2) This project requires two or three large nuclear power plants. No one on Earth will ever allow that much nuclear material to be launched into orbit! Too dangerous, way too expensive and way too politically suicidal to allow. There are also enormous problems running a large nuclear power plant in space. The radiation from uranium power plants degrades the components of the power plant quickly and irreversibly, requiring very costly, time consuming retrofits and repairs – how will all this take place in space, millions of km away from Earth? How will you replace/dispose of the fuel rods after they are spent (average lifespan 18-38 months)? How will you effectively cool such a power plant without usable water (i.e. a river, large lake, sea or ocean next door)? So many problems with this plan.

    3) Money. The expense of lifting all of this stuff into space, which was estimated to be 200-300 heavy lifts, would cost many trillions of dollars alone, not including researching, building and assembling the components in space. That would cost many trillions of dollars more. You could take all of the current money available for all the world’s governments and you might have enough money.

  • LariAnn Garner May 14, 2012, 3:58 PM

    Just learning about this has really fired up my imagination. In part, what will make this happen is a group of scientists, engineers and other technical experts who can all step outside the theoretical restraints of status-quo science and unleash their imaginations and vision. You don’t start with, “We can’t do it because . . .”; you start with “Imagine that this has been done. What are the possible ways to do it?” The Wright brothers KNEW that flight was possible because they could see it every day when birds flew by. We need to know that FTL travel is possible, either in our vision or in fact. Unless some UFOs are actually FTL craft, we have to rely on our imagination and vision. Make it so!

  • Magnusbjarnis May 14, 2012, 1:36 PM

    I have dreamed about exploring space and this could be my chance. I will study harder now so that my grades go up and I can go and become an actual astronaut. It would be incredible if someone did this project and I want to become a part of it.

  • Cyberdrax May 14, 2012, 7:51 PM

    Let’s get on it!

  • ProvokingThought May 14, 2012, 11:08 PM

    Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its 100-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

  • Frank Strait May 15, 2012, 1:37 AM

    I read through the story and 50 or so of the comments … it seems to me that if this spaceship is going to travel at very high speeds, then one thing it’s going to need but nobody had mentioned is some sort of shielding. Even pea to marble sized particles out there are going to pack quite a punch if the closing speed is going to be 10 kilometers per second or more. Does anyone have ideas about how to tackle that?

    • SJStar May 15, 2012, 2:07 PM

      “…but nobody had mentioned is some sort of shielding.”

      I did!!

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