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Surprising Science

Project Icarus: An Interstellar Mission

Andreas Tziolas of Project Icarus overviews the general Icarus mission timeline, with a focus on the propulsion techniques that will be required to support the fusion-propelled interstellar vehicle.

What’s the Latest Development?

Project Icarus is an ambitious five-year study into launching an unmanned spacecraft to an interstellar destination. The distance to the nearest star, a binary system named Alpha centauri, is 4.365 light years—at that distance, the Icarus craft will need a very able propulsion system. Leader of the propulsion division, Andreas Tziolas says the craft would most likely be constructed in space where Helium-3, a rare helium isotope that could power a fusion engine, could be harvested from the moon or the atmosphere of Jupiter. Along its way, the Icarus craft would complete scientific objectives, such as investigating any earth-like planets.

What’s the Big Idea?

Headed by the Tau Zero Foundation and British Interplanetary Society, a non-profit group of scientists dedicated to interstellar spaceflight, Icarus is working to develop a spacecraft that can travel to a nearby star. The project takes up where Project Daedalus left off in the 1970s, a research initiative led by Freeman Dyson to invent a fusion-powered spacecraft. At the time, money for fusion research was plentiful because of the Cold War. Today, when budgets of all kinds are strapped tight, Icarus is making what plans it can in hopes of encouraging major space initiatives in the future. 


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