Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Wings of Daedalus

Daedalus First Stage Separation
Project Daedalus was an engineering study carried out by members of the British Interplanetary Society to determine if interstellar travel is possible using current (1970s) technology. The concept developed was an unmanned space probe which would detonate helium and deuterium pellets using electron beams fired from diodes located around the base of the engine nozzle. This near-continuous series of fusion detonations (approximately 250 per second!) would provide thrust to accelerate the probe for it's half-century voyage to Barnard's Star, a fast-moving red dwarf star only 6 light-years distant. With no way to decelerate the Daedalus would streak through the Barnard's system in a matter of days. (Quite a similar mission to NASA's New Horizon probe to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt...except that Daedalus would take fifty years to reach its target rather than ten!)

I'm a huge fan of such studies as Daedalus and the somewhat similar Orion program (an actual practical R&D effort by General Atomics in the late 50s-early 60s); these amazing flights of fancy reflect hard-headed science and engineering in an ivory-castle fantasy world where budgets are inconsequential and no R&D program is ever canceled by Congress.

Someday we will reach the planets, and perhaps even the stars...maybe someone will dust off the Orion or Daedalus plans when the time comes to make that next "Giant Leap".

Daedalus with a Saturn V for scale

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