Marc G. Millis, NASA’s leading expert on Breakthrough Propulsion Physics, has published a paper that speculates about when we can expect to make our first trip to another star.
You can find the paper here.
Sanity Warning: Its speculation, please digest with a few grains of salt.
OK, so what he has done is to look at the energy requirements for such a trip, and here is how he describes it …
Projections for the earliest interstellar mission possibilities are calculated based on 27 years of data on historic energy trends, societal priorities, required mission energy, and the implications of the Incessant Obsolescence Postulate (Where newer probes pass prior probes).
He has a go at two possible scenarios …
- A minimal colony ship where destination is irrelevant … the pot luck, lets just go and see what we can find option. It would be a human generation ship with 500 people on a one-way ticket and approx 50 tones of baggage each.
- A minimal probe to Alpha Centauri with a 75 year mission duration.
Now to do this, you need to make some assumptions … its a thought experiment, thats all you can do … so his colony ship is assumed to have a mass of 10^7 kg, and the probe 10^4 kg.
And the answer he comes up with is that the earliest interstellar missions could not begin for roughly another 2 centuries, or 1 century at best. Even when considering only the kinetic energy of the vehicles without any regard for propellant, the colony ship cannot launch until around the year 2200, and the probe cannot launch until around 2500.
Its fascinating stuff, but I do feel obliged to point out a few concerns
- Its just a guess based on assumptions that are most probably not correct, so treat it as a bit of speculative fun, and nothing more.
- He assumes our ability to deploy energy will progress in a linear manner, but thats never been the case.
- It fails the consider some form of Breakthrough in the field of Propulsion Physics (which in many ways is highly ironic, because thats his day job)
- I don’t see anybody prepared to go on a one way trip with no specific destination, and simply take pot luck.
I might of course be wrong … would you be willing to take a pot-luck one-way trip?