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Solar One: A proposal for the first manned interstellar spaceship

In a new paper, astronomer Alberto Caballero presents the concept and design of a beam-powered propulsion system that could become the first manned interstellar spaceship by the late-20s.

Solar One, the name he gives to the spaceship, could reach 30% the speed of light, reaching Alpha Centauri system in 15 years.

Alberto argues that, despite light-sail spacecrafts such as the so-called Starships from the Starshot project have already been designed, they might not be the best option to explore exoplanets in detail.

The new type of spaceship would have a light-sail propelled by a laser system, which would receive the necessary electricity from a small nuclear fission reactor.

The Concept
Solar One is a proposed human-crewed spaceship that would integrate three existing or near-term technologies: the LANL Mega Power Reactor, a larger version of NASA’ Sunjammer light sail, and an updated version of the HELLADS laser system.

Firstly, the LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory) Mega Power Reactor is a fission reactor that weighs 35 tons. It is able to produce up to 10 MW, or the equivalent of 2 MW of continuous power for 12 years.

Secondly, the Sunjammer light sail is a proposed NASA sail with a size of 38 x 38 m (1,444 m2).

Thirdly, HELLADS (High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System) is a ground-based laser weapon system demonstrator operated by DARPA, with a goal of 5 kg per KW by 2023.

The idea behind Solar One is to combine these three projects. A 2-crew spaceship with a total mass of 91 tons would be powered by a mile-long light sail in order to achieve the speed of 0.3c.

The large sail would produce an incredible force of more than 170,000 newtons, resulting in a constant acceleration and deceleration of 0.18g during the first and last one year and a half of the trip.

“The key aspect of this idea resides in the extremely large size of the light sail” – says Alberto.

The design
Alberto identifies six main components in the spaceship: a laser system equipped with a beam expander, a light sail, a nuclear micro-reactor, a descend module and a cockpit protected from space radiation.

To reduce possible damage caused by asteroids, the light sail would be rolled when the spaceship is neither accelerating nor decelerating.

For the deceleration, the hydraulic structure would re-orientate the laser system 180+ .

Once the destination is reached, the crew could orbit the exoplanet, take images and send a robot to the surface.

If the air turns out to be breathable, the crew could choose to land in order to personally explore the exoplanet.

The design
Alberto identifies six main components in the spaceship: a laser system equipped with a beam expander, a light sail, a nuclear micro-reactor, a descend module and a cockpit protected from space radiation.

To reduce possible damage caused by asteroids, the light sail would be rolled when the spaceship is neither accelerating nor decelerating.

For the deceleration, the hydraulic structure would re-orientate the laser system 180+ .

Once the destination is reached, the crew could orbit the exoplanet, take images and send a robot to the surface.

If the air turns out to be breathable, the crew could choose to land in order to personally explore the exoplanet.

How much would it cost?
A micro fission reactor such as the LANL Mega Power Reactor could cost around 16 million dollars, a HELLADS laser system around 21 million dollars, and the Sunjammer mission had a total cost of 27 million dollars.

SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) would be suitable for the launch, which is estimated to cost around 30 million dollars.

Based on these estimates, Alberto points out that the total cost of Solar One could stay below 100 million dollars.

What are the main challenges?
The main challenges in building this spaceship would be to protect the reactor module and the light sail from micro-asteroid impacts.

The module containing the nuclear micro-reactor would have a protective coating thicker than the rest of the spaceship.

However, in case of nuclear failure, the chances to survive would be minimal.

“The spaceship could operate with a radar for asteroids, but using a fusion reactor would certainly be more effective and safe” – says Alberto.

Source: Space Daily

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