GRANT REQUEST FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF AN INTERSTELLAR SCIENCE VESSEL
Currently, study of extra-solar objects is limited to those large enough and bright enough to be detected with telescopes. The information that can be gathered from telescopic readings is limited and vague, and therefore of minimal value. Additionally, there exist several objects which pose a direct threat to humanity, such as PSR B0531+21, which is known to be accelerating towards Earth. It is possible and likely that many more of these objects exist, but are currently undetectable due to limitations of our instrumentation. If other star systems could be studied up close, our knowledge of extra-solar objects would be greatly improved.
We propose the construction of a spaceship capable of carrying a crew of 300 to 500 humans on an indefinitely long voyage between star systems.
Propulsion would be achieved using the Darius-Semiz singularity drive proposed by Prometheus Labs scientist George Darius. This drive uses the Hawking radiation1 from a subatomic Reissner-Nordström black hole2 to generate thrust. The drive consists of three primary structures: the Reissner-Nordström black hole, the superconducting blades used to contain the black hole and redirect the charged particles it emits, and the parabolic reflector used to focus the emitted gamma rays. (See Figure A.) The superconducting blades also have the ability to use the charged particles emitted by the black hole to generate electrical power for the rest of the starship.
A black hole with an initial mass of approximately 675,000 metric tonnes would be suitable for use in the Darius-Semiz drive. A black hole of this mass has a life expectancy of 5 years, a power output of ~130 petawatts, and a radius of 1 attometer. A starship using this drive could easily use a 1g brachistochrone trajectory3 to travel the 4 lightyear distance from Earth to Proxima Centauri. Due to the effects of special relativity, this trip would take less than 3.5 years from the perspective of the starship, and slightly over 5.6 years from the perspective of Earth4. Faster travel times could, of course, be achieved through higher accelerations, but the effects of special relativity quickly impose diminishing returns.
Remassing the black hole would be required upon arrival in a destination star system. This could be accomplished by harvesting small celestial objects such as asteroids and comets and feeding them into the black hole. In this manner, the lifespan of the black hole, and therefore the potential duration of the starship's voyage, could be made practically infinite.
Due to the extended duration of any voyage made by this starship, it is recommended that the majority of the crew be kept in hibernation during transit, both to reduce strain on the life support system, and to keep morale from deteriorating due to boredom. A modified version of the Long Sleep Stasis System™, manufactured under contract for Marshall, Carter and Dark, LLP, could be used for this purpose.
Life support for the non-hibernating crew would be handled by a closed ecological life support system built using technologies developed as part of Project Castle Keep. Food and oxygen would be provided by specially engineered algae, using Spirulina platensis5 as a base, with the possibility of "gourmet" meals being provided by small fish or crustaceans fed on this algae. Recycling of water and solid waste would be performed by a supercritical water oxidation unit, which sterilizes and breaks down any organic material fed into it. Additional water would need to occasionally be added to this system to replenish the small losses inherent to it. This replacement water could come from ice mined from comets and asteroids in destination star systems.
A vast array of sensors and scientific equipment would be carried by the proposed starship to allow it to fulfill its intended purpose of performing close-up observations of extra-solar objects. The full list of carried equipment can be found in Appendix B, but some of the more notable ones include:
- A Kafka counter, used for measuring reality flux.
- An EVE imager, derived from the technology used in the COLLICULUS system manufactured for the GOC.
- A Randall detector, used to detect high-energy particles indicative of inter-universal travel.
Collected data would be transmitted back to Earth using a tight-beam laser communications system. Due to the communications lag imposed by lightspeed delays, real-time two-way communications would be impossible, making a rectenna for receiving transmissions from Earth pointless.
In order to create any replacement parts required for repairs, the starship would be equipped with a highly capable production workshop. Using asteroid processing technologies developed for Project Locust, this workshop would process raw materials gathered from asteroid belts and use them to fabricate any necessary parts.
In the course of its exploration, it is possible that the starship will encounter planets or moons of sufficient scientific interest that it would be desirable to land members of the crew on its surface. To accomplish this, the starship could carry a number of Valkyrie nuclear thermal landing vehicles created by Project Valhalla. The Valkyries are capable of performing single-stage landings and returns to orbit on Earth-sized planets with an atmosphere and Ceres-sized moons and asteroids without an atmosphere. This is possible through the use of a trimodal nuclear thermal rocket, capable of using atmospheric gases, liquid water, and atomic hydrogen as reaction mass.
Many of the subsystems of the starship would make extensive use of paratechnology. Of particular note are the superconducting blades, which would need to be constructed from an extremely high temperature superconductor. Other areas where paratech would be extensively utilized include much of the more exotic instrumentation, and the process for creating the Reissner-Nordström black hole for the Darius-Semiz drive.
The estimated mass of the starship upon completion is approximately 900,000 metric tonnes. The majority of this would come from the Darius-Semiz drive, which would mass approximately 725,000 metric tonnes. Construction would, by necessity, take place in space.
The purpose of this starship would be to study other planets and star systems at close range in order to increase our wealth of scientific knowledge. While this is not immediately or directly profitable, the long-term benefits are incalculable.
To increase profitability, unused berths on the starship could be sold to ultra-wealthy individuals as a form of space tourism. These sales could be arranged through MC&D, as they have both the client base and discretion required to handle these sales. It is our recommendation that no more than 10 berths be sold in this manner, at a cost of 100 million USD per berth.
Additional revenue could be generated through sale of data sharing agreements to organizations such as the Foundation and the GOC. We do not recommend advertising the availability of these data sharing agreements until after the completion and launch of the starship, in order to reduce the chances of industrial espionage or interference.
Finally, many of the technologies involved in the construction of the starship have potential commercial applications here on Earth. Several of these applications have been listed below.
- The Darius-Semiz singularity drive is based off of a proposal by Ibrahim Semiz to use black holes for power generation. The technology used in constructing the Darius-Semiz drive could be reused for this purpose.
- The design of the closed ecological life support system for the starship could find applications in isolated research outposts, such as McMurdo Station. At larger scales, it could potentially be used to create large amounts of cheap, nutritious food, which would be invaluable to poverty stricken regions suffering from food shortages.
- Successful implementation of the technologies developed by Project Locust could be built upon to develop space-based infrastructure at a relatively low-cost, paving the way for future ventures into space.
For a full list of predicted commercial applications, see Appendix C.
USE OF FUNDING
The overall estimated cost of construction is 2 billion USD.
Construction costs and times would be greatly reduced through the use of the von Neumann assemblers developed by Project Locust to mine and process asteroids. It would take an estimated 15 months and 450 million USD for the structure and hull to be built using these assemblers.
Creation of the various components of the Darius-Semiz drive would take 18 months and cost 1 billion USD, broken down as follows:
- 750 million USD to create the Reissner-Nordström black hole6.
- 200 million USD to construct the superconducting blades.
- 50 million USD to construct the parabolic reflector.
An additional 6 months and 450 million USD would need to be spent to outfit the starship with the various instrumentation and equipment necessary for its mission.
A final 100 million USD would need to be spent to train the crew and transport them to the starship.
This proposal, if accepted, would be amongst the largest and most expensive endeavors undertaken by Prometheus Labs, dwarfed only by the likes of Project Atlantis and Project Tartarus. However, most of the technologies involved are either proven, or are based on well-understood scientific principles. The primary concern, as with Project Atlantis, is industrial espionage, which should be mitigated by locating the construction in the asteroid belt.
While plans exist for the Darius-Semiz drive which this proposal depends on, it has never before been built by Prometheus Labs, or any other human organization. As such, many potential difficulties in its construction are unknown or hard to predict. However, the process used to generate the Reissner-Nordström black hole has been tested before, removing much of the uncertainty in the central component of the drive.
The Long Sleep Stasis System™ proposed for use in extended duration hibernation currently has a failure rate of ~4%, which is unacceptable for use in this proposal. Modifying it so that the failure rate is acceptably low will require significant development, although the research necessary to do so has already been performed.
There is a high probability that if the starship encounters extraterrestrial life while in another star system, the crew will be the individuals responsible for first contact7. It is advised that all crew selected for the starship be trained in proper first contact procedures in order to reduce the chances of an interstellar incident.