A new paper explains the concept and design of a beam-powered propulsion system. It could become the first manned interstellar spaceship.

In a new paper published in engrxiv.org, astronomer Alberto Caballero talks about a new type of interstellar spaceship. It would combine beam-powered propulsion and nuclear fusion.

The spaceship, which he calls Solar One, could become the first manned interstellar spaceship by the late-20s.

Solar one would be equipped with a light-sail, a laser system, and a small nuclear fusion reactor.

The nuclear reactor would provide the necessary electricity to the laser system, which, in turn, would exert radiation pressure on the light sail and the entire spacecraft.

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Alberto Caballero is the coordinator of the Habitable Exoplanet Hunting Project, an international network of both professional and amateur astronomers.

He argues that light-sail spacecraft such as the so-called Starships from the Starshot project, might not be the best option to explore exoplanets in detail.

Nasa’s 1 kW nuclear reactor for powering space and surface of planets and moons missions. Credit: NASA Glenn

The technologies used in the spacecraft could be based on projects such as the US Navy Terawatt Compact Fusion Reactor, a NASA light sail mission under the name of Sunjammer, or a 5-Terawatt portable laser called Teramobile.

The Resulting Spaceship

Solar one spaceship, with a crew of two people, could have a total mass of around 90 tons.

“The most important aspect of the idea is how large the light sail would be: 1 mile-long¨ – says Caballero.

Solar one: https://i.ibb.co/M1XL232/Fig-1.jpg

The laser system of 150 Terawatts of power would be the second most important component of the spacecraft.

Alberto Caballero also points out that, for the laser beam to cover all the light sail and to avoid placing the laser system excessively away from the light sail, the use of some sort of beam expander that would uniformly exert light on the sail and avoid any possible damage would be necessary.  

To avoid asteroid impacts on the light sail, this one would be rolled during most of the journey. Upon arrival to the star system an onboard laser system would decelerate the spacecraft.

The most challenging aspect of the project seems to be the protection of the nuclear reactor from the possible impact of micro-meteorites.

Alberto Caballero argues that the spacecraft could be equipped with a radar that could allow the crew to manually change direction in case of an asteroid approaching, but such a system might only work with asteroids of large dimensions. It would, therefore, be critical to providing the nuclear module with a special coating.

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