We recently posted some observations from the second annual 100 Year Starship Symposium, which took place in Houston last month. Since that time, several people have asked us for our thoughts on how the 100 Year Starship Initiative ought to proceed.

We’ve been reluctant to offer any advice, due to the sheer enormity of the task which DARPA laid out for the initiative. Developing the technology to build and launch a starship in 100 years is an unprecedented challenge, which greatly exceeds any previous engineering project in both scope and duration. There are no precedents for the management of such a project.

After some reflection, however, one thing seems obvious to us. It is highly unlikely that the first starship will be built by NASA, DARPA, the 100 Year Starship Initiative, or any other Earth-bound institution.

The people who design and build the starship will almost certainly be living in space, with access to resources greatly exceeding those available to us on Earth and technologies beyond our current understanding.

Therefore, the most important thing the 100 Year Starship Initiative can do is to support near-term steps that will enable large numbers of people to move out into space, on a permanent basis.


Written by Astro1 on October 3rd, 2012 , Space Settlement

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    Buck Field commented

    While I understand traditional chemical launch of starship materials to space would seem to make *building* the first interstellar starship on Earth unlikely, what is not obvious to me is why the process of building is an appropriate focus, given the current stage of maturity for the desired outcome.

    Was it properly derived as the strategic focus of an organization based on a well-established methodology for prioritization of projects? The description does not indicate this.

    Graduate business schools are overflowing with strategic planning processes to answer such questions. These guidelines and much experience indicate that strategic recommendations resulting from application good techniques put us in a position where our assumptions and priorities can be clearly documented, communicated, and analyzed. Then we can efficiently detect errors, make corrections, and act smarter and more successfully in the next attempt. We would be alert for example, to indications (horribly named “risk triggers”) that developing resources or researching technology were on the critical path for starship development, and that we need to re-allocate resources to reach optimal.

    Consider this: We are in the early 1800’s, just pre-dawn of the Age of Airships, and reaching the moon some day seems plausible. Someone claims that if moon ships will ever be constructed, they will almost certainly be built by people residing in floating cities, if only for the massive amounts of coal it would save. What would we say to that person?

    October 3, 2012 at 8:09 pm
      Tom Billings commented

      Well, a first point is that no coal would be saved by construction of airships in cities floating in the air, since air has only a few of the things needed to build and power airships at any level of technology as perceived in 1900, much less in 1800. Unlike that, the rest of the Solar System has millions of times the resources needed to build starships as does the surface of the Earth. Not only that, but for the nearest term technologies that are applicable to a wide array of needs for a starship you can *only* test them in Space. Unless you intend to go “Columbiad”, a la Jules Verne, with your planning of technology development, and launch humans with the first attempt at all the technologies developed then you must be in Space for testing, at minimum, and most often for operating at all. None of these were the case with airships.

      For instance, many of the fusion propulsion systems proposed for these voyages cannot be tested, or flown, from the Earth’s surface, both because most of them require vacuum for operation, and because of the NIMBY field that surrounds Earth. If you move ahead to Albuquierre Warp Drive systems, then the NIMBY field actually grows enormously. (“They are going to warp space and time on the Earth’s surface? They will rip the Earth apart with their arrogant search for ways to leave it behind, …kill them!)”

      I doubt we will be able to test even the concentrator technologies for Bussard Ramjets within the orbit of Saturn. Likewise, the technologies needed to use radiation repair technologies to survive and extend the lives of our cells, so that we live to reach the stars, will be subject to increasing challenge on the Earth. After some years I expect that the opposition to life extension will become strong in governments anywhere on the surface, and life extension beyond a certain point may only be developable outside the reach of those who believe that there are already too many humans, doing too many things “the right sort of people” cannot control. The stronger these sentiments get, the farther out from Earth we will have to go to even start developing the new technologies involved.

      Competent planning for any starship project seems to require a place where these impediments to advance in technology and operations are minimized. That would best be done, with the least amount of open warfare, away from the Earth.

      October 4, 2012 at 10:46 am
    Eric Post commented

    “Therefore, the most important thing 100 Year Starship Initiative can do is to support near-term steps that will enable large numbers of people to move out into space, on a permanent basis.”

    I quite agree. Which is why my stretch goal within the 100YSS initiative is “10,000 people living on Luna by 2040”. Refining the technologies to fulfill that goal will prepare the next generation for the following step in starship construction.

    October 10, 2012 at 11:38 am