“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

– Peter F. Drucker

The Voyager spacecraft can be considered humanity’s first real interstellar craft. Three decades after their launch, they have reached the edge of our solar system and are still sending back data.

Other starship ideas have been studied in enough detail to predict their performance and the level of effort needed to build and launch them. Such engineering exercises improve our understanding of the challenges and our limits. Some highlights of these concepts are presented below.

1953 – Engineering physics for interstellar travel, Eugen Sanger, “Eugen Sänger, Zur Theorie der Photonenraketen.” (Vortrag auf dem 4. Internationalen Astronautischen Kongreß in Zürich 1953).- Ing. Arch. 21 (1953), S. 213-226.- Probleme der Weltraumforschung, Verlag Laupscher, Biel 1954, S. 32-40.

Re-thinking the Antimatter Rocket

The Interstellar Conundrum Reconsidered

Image Credit: Young Technician

1958 – “Project Orion” using nuclear detonation propulsion.

S. Ulam, T. Taylor, & F. Dyson, “Nuclear Pulse Space Vehicle Study,” General Atomic.

Beginnings of the Interstellar Idea

An Interstellar Provocation

Can Project Orion Be Re-Born?

Looking Back at Orion

1960 – “Bussard Ramjet” using on-the-fly-fusing of indigenous space protons.

R. Bussard, “Galactic Matter and Interstellar Flight,” Astronautica Acta.

A Brief Window

Catalyzed Fusion: Tuning Up the Ramjet

Remembering Robert Bussard

Tuning Up the Interstellar Ramjet

Braking Against a Stellar Wind

1977– “Voyager 1 & 2″ using a chemical rocket.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory et al.

Voyager and the Will to Explore

Reflections on a Mythic Voyager

Voyager 1 Nearing Interstellar Space

Voyager in the Doldrums

The Enduring Legacy of the Voyagers

Credit: NASA

Credit: Alex Szames

1978, Project Daedalus,” using a nuclear fusion rocket.

Alan Bond, et al, British Interplanetary Society

Remembering Project Daedalus

Fusion and the Starship

Second image shows the Daedalus’ size compared to Saturn V moon rocket.

1984 – “Laser-beamed sail.

Robert Forward, “Roundtrip Interstellar Travel Using Laser-Pushed Lightsails,” Journal of Spacecraft & Rockets.

Laser Beamed Interstellar Mission: A New Take

Laser Beaming to Boost Solar Sails

1985 – “Starwisp” using beamed microwave energy to sails.

R. Forward, “Starwisp: an Ultralight Interstellar Probe,” American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

The Case for Beamed Sails

Remembering Starwisp

1987 – “VISTA” using a nuclear fusion rocket.

Charles D. Orth, “VISTA – A Vehicle for Interplanetary Space Transport Application Powered by Inertial Confinement Fusion,” Lawrence Livermore National Lab.

Creating Stars in the Laboratory

Prior Visions of Star Flight

Will the designer/artist of this image please contact us for due credit.

1987 – “TAU (Thousand Astronomical Units)” using nuclear-electric ion propulsion.

JPL, et al, “Tau — A Mission to a Thousand Astronomical Units,” Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

A Practical Mission to the Interstellar Medium

Dark Energy: Calibrating Standard Candles

Image: An earlier concept called Realistic Interstellar Explorer, a key step in refining the design for the current mission concept.

1988 – “Project Longshot” using nuclear pulse propulsion.

Beals, K. A., M. Beaulieu, F. J. Dembia, J. Kerstiens, D. L. Kramer, J. R. West and J. A. Zito, “Project Longshot: An Unmanned Probe To Alpha Centauri,” U. S Naval Academy.

Project Longshot: Fast Probe to Centauri

Will the designer/artist of this image please contact us for due credit.

1999 – “AIMStar” using antimatter catalyzed nuclear propulsion.

Raymond A. Lewis, Kirby Meyer, Gerald A. Smith and Steven D. Howe, “AIMStar: Antimatter Initiated Microfusion For Pre-cursor Interstellar Missions,” Pennsylvania State University.

Antimatter’s Advantages (and the Catch)

A Practical Positron Rocket?

The image shown is the ICAN-II, a precursor to AIMStar

2003 – “Innovative Interstellar Explorer” using nuclear electric rockets.

Ralph McNutt, “Mission Design for the Innovative Interstellar Explorer Vision Mission” NASA (ongoing).

Update on Innovative Interstellar Explorer

Innovative Interstellar Explorer: A Response to Questions

The image shown is an early Innovative Interstellar Explorer design concept.

2009 – “Project Icarus,” using nuclear fusion rocket.

Icarus Interstellar (numerous papers, ongoing).

Project Icarus: Contemplating Starship Design

Icarus: Revisiting the Daedalus Starship

Project Icarus: Finding the Fuel

The image shows Icarus accelerating.

2012 – “Gravitational Lens Deep Space Probe Design.”

2nd Lt. Berkley Davis, Masters Thesis, US AFIT.

Based on commercially-available hardware to determine a realistic baseline.

The FOCAL Mission: To the Sun’s Gravity Lens

A FOCAL Mission into the Oort Cloud

The Gravitational Lens and Communications

Content Contributors

  • Brandon Vernon
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  • Tatiana Covington
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