New interstellar mission design in the works: Project Icarus, the successor to Project Daedalus (and Project Longshot)

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Project Daedalus is without a doubt the most famous conceptual interstellar mission, a project that would have involved sending a probe off to Barnard's Star, a red dwarf star which happens to be the closest star to us besides Alpha Centauri. It also happens to be approaching us at 110 km per second, which means that since the project was proposed in 1973 the star is now 890 AU closer to us. That's nothing compared to the total distance between us and the star, but 9000 years from now it will be 3.8 light years away, so about 2 LY closer.

Back to Project Icarus: it's been a long time since the last major conceptual interstellar mission, as after Project Daedalus in 1973 we had Project Longshot (to Alpha Centauri) in 1988, and a lot has changed since then. We're still a long, long way away from being able to accomplish an interstellar mission but we are a tiny bit closer than we were during the late 1980s. It's still unknown what target Project Icarus will choose but submissions are due by 2014, which is a good date to choose as by then we will no doubt know about a number of extrasolar Earths as well as many brown dwarfs in the vicinity, some perhaps even closer than Alpha Centauri, and since we are so close to knowing about them it makes sense to choose a date when we will be able to factor that into all the possibilities for destinations.

A brown dwarf even a single light year away (something WISE might discover soon) would still be a formidable challenge, taking 17000 years at the velocity of our current fastest probe.

The Project Icarus home page is here.

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