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Solar One: The First Manned Interstellar Spaceship

April 29, 2020 (spacedaily.com)

• In a new paper (see here), astronomer Alberto Caballero presents the concept and design of a light-sail propelled by a laser propulsion system that could reach 30% the speed of light and reach the Alpha Centauri star system in 15 years. A small nuclear fission reactor would provide the needed electicity. Caballero says that the 2-crew spacecraft, called ‘Solar One’, could become the first manned interstellar spaceship by the late-20s.

• The human-crewed spaceship would integrate the LANL Mega Power Reactor, a larger version of NASA’ Sunjammer light sail, and an updated version of the HELLADS laser system, all of which are existing or ‘near-term’ technologies. The LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory) Mega Power Reactor is a 35 ton fission reactor able to produce continuous power for 12 years. The 38m x 38m Sunjammer light sail is proposed by NASA. And the HELLADS (High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System) is a ground-based laser weapon system operated by DARPA. It would all be launched with SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket. The total cost of Solar One spacecraft would be in the $100 million range.

• Solar One’s large sail would produce an incredible force resulting in a constant acceleration and deceleration during the trip. “The key aspect of this idea resides in the extremely large size of the light sail” – says Caballero. When the spaceship is neither accelerating nor decelerating, the light sail would be rolled up to reduce possible damage by asteroids. The module containing the nuclear micro-reactor would have a protective coating thicker than the rest of the spaceship to protect it from micro-asteroid impacts. But in case of nuclear failure, the chances to survive would be minimal.

• Once the destination is reached, the crew could orbit the exoplanet, take images and send a robot to the surface. If the air is breathable, the crew could choose to land and personally explore the exoplanet.

 

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 Caballero

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.

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Inside The Search For Another Habitable Planet Within 100 Light Years Of Earth

Listen to “E183 Inside The Search For Another Habitable Planet Within 100 Light Years Of Earth” on Spreaker.

Article by Jamie Carter                             November 25, 2019                               (forbes.com)

• The Habitable Exoplanet Hunting Project is a global attempt to discover potentially habitable exoplanets within 100 light years, involving a network of over 25 amateur astronomy observatories around the globe. It will focus on ten stars within 100 light years of Earth, all of which have confirmed transiting exoplanets within the so-called “habitable zone”.

• The exoplanet known as Kepler 442b, which orbits a K-type star and could be even more habitable than Earth. M-type stars, or ‘red dwarfs’, are small, cool stars that are impossible to see with the naked eye, but they are by far the most common type of star in our region of the Milky Way. G, K and M-type stars are “the stars that are most likely to host exoplanets with water on their surface because they don’t flare,” says Alberto Caballero, an amateur astronomer at The Exoplanets Channel and the coordinator of the ‘Habitable Exoplanet Hunting Project’. “If a star flares, it can damage the atmosphere of the exoplanets.”

• The ideal exoplanet is a dense and rocky “super Earth” planet, almost seven times bigger than Earth, called LHS 1140 b, orbiting within the habitable zone of the red dwarf star LHS 1140 about 40 light years distant in the constellation of Cetus. Three other prime candidates would be:
Proxima Centauri b – an exoplanet orbiting an M-type red dwarf star 4.24 light years away in the constellation of Centauri;
Tau Ceti e – an exoplanet orbiting an M-type red dwarf star 11.9 light years away in the constellation of Cetus;
Teegarden b -an exoplanet orbiting an M-type red dwarf star 12 light years away in the constellation of Aries.

• Tau Ceti e is a “super Earth” exoplanet almost four times the mass of Earth. It is so massive that you can see Ceti in the constellation Cetus with the naked eye, level with Orion’s Belt in the northern hemisphere.

• The Project has been careful to ignore stars that have Jupiter-sized gas giant exoplanets in their habitable zones unless the star is so big that it may not adversely affect other exoplanets in the star’s orbit. “We’re trying to monitor the stars 24/7 for about two months,” says Caballero, “so it’s easier for us if we focus on M-type stars because any exoplanets would have really short orbital periods. But the most ideal ones are K-type stars.”

• NASA’s orbiting space telescope, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite or ‘TESS’ has already found 29 confirmed exoplanets. Caballero says, “So far (TESS has) not detected any potentially inhabited planets, but it’s only just starting on the northern hemisphere.” In the long term, Caballero thinks that studying an exoplanet’s ‘biosignature’ from its light spectrum with better instruments will yield the most potentially habitable exoplanets. Says Caballero, “[I]t’s all about having better technology.”

[Editor’s Note]  The Habitable Hunting Project might need to strike Proxima b off of their list. In March 2018, the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in the Chilean Andes, reported that the red dwarf star, Proxima Centauri, fired off a powerful “superflare” which could be seen from the Earth. (see Space.com article here) It briefly boosted the star’s brightness by a factor of 68. The astronomy team noted that “life would struggle to survive in the areas of Proxima b exposed to these flares.”

 

The search for extraterrestrial life is easily the most profound question in modern astronomy, but it’s hampered by a lack of both technology and time.

Is life possible beyond the solar system? If we’re ever to find out, we must study and categorise the stars to answer this one, simple question: if we had a spaceship we could send to the nearest Earth-like planet, which one would we send it to?

            Alberto Caballero

When astronomers find exoplanets, they put them on a list marked “potentially habitable” or else use them as clues that habitable exoplanets may lurk in their star system. Most of them are exceptionally far away. So far we’ve found three close exoplanets that orbit within a star’s so-called “habitable zone” where liquid water could exist on its surface.

If astronomers had to choose a planet in another star system to send a spaceship, these three would be prime candidates:

• Proxima Centauri b: an exoplanet orbiting an M-type red dwarf star 4.24 light years away in the constellation of Centauri.

• Tau Ceti e: an exoplanet orbiting an M-type red dwarf star 11.9 light years away in the constellation of Cetus.

• Teegarden b: an exoplanet orbiting an M-type red dwarf star 12 light years away in the constellation of Aries.

Where will we most likely find others? Though the vast majority of star systems remain unexplored, we know of plenty that contain planets not in the star’s habitable zone. These star systems are surely the best places to look.

Cue the Habitable Exoplanet Hunting Project, a global attempt attempt to discover potentially habitable exoplanets within 100 light years, and involving over 25 observatories.

What is the Habitable Exoplanet Hunting Project?

It’s a network of amateur astronomy observatories around the globe—from the U.S. and Uzbekistan to South Africa and Australia—that is studying 10 stars within 100 light years for signs of new, as yet unfound exoplanets. All of the stars that will be studied already have confirmed transiting exoplanets outside the so-called “habitable zone”. “We’ve chosen observatories in deserts or high regions or mountains because weather is always the main problem with projects like this,” says Alberto Caballero, an amateur astronomer at The Exoplanets Channel and the coordinator of the Habitable Exoplanet Hunting Project. “But we will need to find more observatories in the southern hemisphere.”

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