First reaction to Alpha Centauri Prize

On the eve of Starship Congress in Dallas, word and reaction to our new Alpha Centauri Prize (see earlier post), for which the $500 dollar prize money is sponsored by Icarus Interstellar, is getting out. At Centauri Dreams Paul Gilster compares the Prize to past competitions in aviation and aerospace (think Charles Lindbergh or Burt Rutan, he writes) but recognises the forward-looking nature of the Prize, noting that in this case the Alpha Centauri Prize is applying similar principles to design studies that “will surely out-run present day engineering”. He notes that “With government funding all but non-existent on most of these concepts, it’s heartening to think that philanthropic alternatives can be found to push studies across the spectrum of propulsion options. A torrent of research papers would be a welcome outcome of such competitions.”

Meanwhile, over at Discovery News Ian O’Neill also recognises the competition’s similarities to things like the Ansari X-Prize that saw SpaceShipOne become the first private space vehicle to take a pilot into sub-orbital flight, but appreciates that “sending a spacecraft to another star is very different than launching space tourists to an altitude of 100 kilometers. But both prizes draw their inspiration from early aerospace pioneers and more recent space endeavors.”

With the Starship Congress less than 24 hours away, which will see the award of the first Prize, the competition is set to share some of the limelight and we’ll be sure to cover the results here.


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Project Dragonfly

We are pleased to announce the launch of a new I4IS project, titled Project Dragonfly. This is a laser-sail propulsion project based on earlier work done by the American physicist Dr Robert L.Forward. Project Dragonfly aims to develop theoretical reference designs but also experimental platforms using ground demonstrators and CubeSat architecture.  We are open for recruiting team members into Project Dragonfly, so please contact us if you are interested in getting involved at: [email protected]

To find out more about Project Dragonfly, please see issue 6 of our publication Principium, which you can download and read at this link:

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Principium Issue 6

We are pleased to bring you Principium issue 6. This is a bumper issue timed for release with the Starship Congress, Dallas, Texas. We hope you enjoy it. You can pick up your copy by going to the following web link:

I4IS admin

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Alpha Centauri Prize

The Alpha Centauri Prize:

Taking Interstellar Research to a New Level

We are pleased to announce the launch of a set of new interstellar design awards, known collectively as the Alpha Centauri Awards, and organized by the Institute for Interstellar Studies. These prizes will be launched as a brand new set of international interstellar related Starship design competitions. The set of awards, known collectively as the Alpha Centauri Prize awards, will be organized annually and will also have a financial element to the award with the aim of incentivizing technical progress in interstellar studies. We will set technical standards for physicists, engineers, biologists and scientists to reach for, harnessing the skills of old, and building the skills of new. We will foster and encourage pathways to new design concepts which solve old problems, and generate insights into new ones – welcome to the exciting Alpha Centauri Prize Awards.


We are very pleased to announce that the first of these awards will be given at the Starship Congress, Dallas, on Sunday 18th August 2013. The particular award on this occasion, known as the “Progenitor Award”, will be given to a speaker “who’s presentation is deemed, by the judges, to have the most potential for impact on the field of interstellar flight”. The winner will be awarded a certificate and a $500 cash award, which has been generously sponsored by the US non-profit Icarus Interstellar ( who has also organized the Starship Congress meeting.

Three independent and qualified judges have been recruited and they will remain anonymous for the time being until the award is made, to ensure impartiality and with no bias to any person, organization or technology. They will be scoring the speakers based on (i) originality and ‘outside the box’ thinking (ii) relevance to interstellar flight (iii) potential of the work to be realizable technologically and economically this century (iv) presentation quality.

Kelvin F.Long, Executive Director Institute for Interstellar Studies and creator of these awards said “I am excited that we are finally moving one of these awards forward, since they have been a long time in the planning, and I hope that in the years ahead we will see some exciting developments come to fruition”.

Richard Obousy, President Icarus Interstellar, sponsor of the award said: “I believe that a prize award holds huge potential to create both incentive and excitement within the interstellar community. Over the years I hope that this award grows substantially and that it compels significant action and generates significant progress in our field. Icarus Interstellar are honored to fund this award.”

It is our belief that progress in interstellar studies can be incentivized through financial awards. We hope you are excited by the arrival of the Alpha Centauri Prize awards which attempts to begin just that.  For a full background on the wider aims of this set of prizes, please read the article below. If you would like to get involved or sponsor a future prize, please get in touch.

I4IS admin

Background to Alpha Centauri Prize Awards

The recently launched set of Alpha Centauri Prizes aims to facilitate and financially incentivize real technical progress towards interstellar flight. There are several different awards in association with these prizes that will be announced over the next two years. The first is the “Progenitor” award and that has been discussed in the announcement above. Other awards will follow in due course which recognize either individual or team efforts that motivate real progress. We want to find those pioneers who help to engineer the future and encourage them on their chosen path. But whilst we are launching a set of smaller prizes, ultimately we would like to get to a much larger prize which is now discussed in more detail.

It was back in 2009 that the BIS/Icarus Interstellar Project Icarus study was founded by Kelvin F.Long and Richard Obousy. Project Icarus is a theoretical design study for an unmanned interstellar probe based upon the historical BIS Project Daedalus. The main motivation for starting this project was (1) a designer capability exercise (2) to re-energize the field of interstellar studies (3) to inspire the public and national space agency mission planners to be bold in their proposals. The progress with Project Icarus to date suggests that the model has worked. Can the model of Project Icarus be replicated on a larger scale to incentivize progress in interstellar research? It will be argued that it can, but first, we must understand the model that is the basis of the original Project Icarus.

It contains several fundamental elements:

  1. That an international design team can be assembled to work on a specific and visionary engineering problem.

2. Focus on a design solution that is a balance between being sufficient bold and being sufficiently credible.

3. Adoption of techniques which are academically rigorous and adherence to accepted engineering practices and physical laws.

4. That most of the engineering design work can be facilitated and organized via the World Wide Web and with heavy reliance on web based tools, including for communication.

5. That the bulk of the team is volunteer enthusiasts, although appropriately qualified, using a team for which many members may never have met or ever meet.

6. Use of a team that is international from a diversity of cultural, ethnic, demographic or environmental backgrounds.

7. Adoption of a flat, dynamic and transparent management structure

8. Ideally supported by non-profit organization(s), hobby groups, university departments, as a foundation base.

9. A team that is networked into external space mission designers involved with actual space missions, to facilitate mentoring.

10. Attendance and presentation at international conferences where possible to facilitate the occasional design workshop and engage with one’s peers.

We can encapsulate the essence of this in a short paragraph?

These technical projects can be defined as a cultural exercise in fun and pursuing personal happiness focused on a specific and visionary engineering problem for the purposes of an educational exercise whilst adding intellectual value to knowledge. It is inspired, through optimistic visions, by the potential of science and technology to allow international participation in the exploration of space and find relevance and meaning to the apparent complexity of our lives. It is led and organized by an enthusiastic group of self-motivated volunteers with a shared set of ideas, hopes and common goals, operating an innovative (Web based) management model whilst communicating the inspiration through media, marketing and education”.

In May 1996 Peter Diamandis set up the now famous Ansari X-prize competition based upon the model used for the 20th century flight across the Atlantic by Charles Lindbergh. The X-prize competition set out to open up Earth orbit to the greater population of the planet and Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites using the SpaceShipOne space plane eventually won it in October 2004. The X-prize has shown that this sort of model is an excellent incentive for spurring technological innovation and replaces the incentive of competitive overtures towards nation state warfare – the motivation behind the eventual Moon landings. Could such a model be adopted, for spurring innovation in the field of interstellar research? The answer is yes and this is how such an ‘Alpha Centauri Prize’ would work.

The Alpha Centauri Prize is a proposal for an international design competition to facilitate interstellar research towards a front-runner Starship design. It contains several important elements:

  1. Announcement of competition rules per cycle, which constitutes the engineering requirement to be completed also known as the Terms of Reference.
  2. International team.
  3. Teams compete for a cash award every two to three years, to include second place and third place runner up cash prizes to motivate re-entry.
  4. Submission of a team (full systems) engineering design report encompassing all the key spacecraft systems.
  5. Addressing both unmanned and manned interstellar mission scenarios depending on the competition requirement of each cycle.
  6. Demonstration of a novel technology or experiment that forms part of a sub-system that would be included in the design, to facilitate evolution of Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs).

The Alpha Centauri Prize would be an international competition that has the function of incentivizing research, contributing technical knowledge, developing designer capability whilst inspiring the public towards the vision of interstellar flight. It is one of the best ways to advance the prospects for interstellar travel, and to have separate design studies, which could be derived, iterated and improved. Over time, the concept would be worked upon by future generations and ultimately lead to a direct design blue print for an interstellar probe after several decades of running. Like the BIS/Icarus Interstellar Project Icarus and the soon to be announced I4IS Project Dragonfly, it is the hope that other teams around the world would be assembled to work on specific proposals investigated historically such as NERVA, Starwisp, Vista, Longshot, AIMStar, Orion or one of the many others.

This way, the technological maturity of different propulsion schemes can be improved over time and the case could be better made for precursor missions to the outer solar system and one day to the nearest stars. In such work all propulsion systems would be considered from nuclear fusion, solar sails, laser beaming, pellet stream, mass drivers, antimatter, antimatter catalyzed fusion to breakthrough propulsion physics concepts. Instead of historical redesigns, the competition would also facilitate complete new and innovative design concepts. The competition would in essence be an academic one, so would be run by a non-profit organization and it could be held every two to three years. This would allow a sufficient time between design studies so as to allow some technological advances and scientific discoveries to be made and allow this new knowledge to be folded into the design work. The output of the studies would be an engineering design study report along the lines of the standard presented by the historical Project Daedalus, but perhaps less ambitious in scope due to the shorter timescales for completion.

In order to maximize design capability and ensure that all the appropriate systems would be assessed the teams would have to be of a minimum size (e.g. 6-10 designers) with a clear Project Leader and with each person delegated a specific role in the design work. The teams would also consist of members from more than one country so as to increase international co-operation in designing such missions and bringing together a world community behind such a vision. The work would not be completed as part of any official government space agency work. The team would complete the study in a submitted report to the judging panel within one year of the official competition opening and the theoretical destination/engineering requirement revealed.

The technical requirements for the competition would be along the following lines:

  1. The team must produce an engineering design study that meets the requirements specified by the competition cycle (i.e. target distance, mission duration, payload mass…).
  2. The probe design would be based upon current or near-future technology (linearly extrapolated few decades hence only) and designed to be launched within a decades to centuries of the study report delivery.
  3. The study must cover all of the major spacecraft systems, including propulsion, environmental, structure, materials, navigation and guidance, fuel, science and payload.
  4. The report must also include a reliability analysis and technology readiness measurement as well as cost assessment. The key milestone timescale required for launching of such a mission should also be defined.
  5. The precursor mission roadmap would be defined, the sort of missions required to lead up to the main interstellar mission launch.
  6. The mission architecture for design, build, assembly and launch would be defined.
  7. The vehicle design may be a combination of propulsion schemes but a single propulsive mechanism should be responsible for approximately 80% of the thrust generation during the boost phase so as to maximize the optimality of that system.
  8. Additionally, the study would result in at least one novel form of test-rig level technology which is included in the final design solution. This could be a ground test, rocket flight or the placement of some hardware into Low Earth Orbit.

It should demonstrate the operating principles of a key engineering component for the design. The specification of an experimental component to the study is to facilitate gradual progression on the Technology Readiness Level scale. This will ensure that as well as theoretical advances new experimental advances are being made towards the ultimate vision of sending a probe towards another star. Some of this technology may someday be used in an actual interstellar mission. It is more desirable to have ten teams producing ten radically different design concepts with some overlap, rather than having ten replica designs, which would be a waste of resources, and for this reason the propulsion option would be left as a variable on each cycle, also to ensure maximum innovation.

The target destination would be changed each time to avoid duplicate design solutions from previous cycles as well as to challenge the design team with difficult missions. The name ‘Alpha Centauri Prize’ does not necessarily imply that the target will always be this star system, although on the first occasion it is run this may be appropriate, being our nearest star. Examples of the Bi-annual competition would include the task to design a probe to reach Alpha Centauri carrying a 1 ton science payload and limited to 50 years total mission duration. Another example would be to design a probe to reach Barnard’s Star carrying a 10 kg science payload and limited to 200 years total mission duration. Alternatively a mission to a Brown Dwarf.

The competition would be assessed by an appropriately qualified judging panel and the decision would be made on the following criteria:

  1. Demonstration of a credible and realistic design solution that meets the project engineering and mission requirements set for the challenge.
  2. Demonstration of a rigorous assessment of all the spacecraft systems.
  3. Derivation of a credible vehicle and mission performance profile.
  4. Demonstration of basic consideration for all spacecraft sub-system requirements.
  5. Completion of the study according to accepted laws of physics and standard engineering practices.
  6. Assumption of current technology or near—future technology based upon reasonable extrapolation techniques.
  7. Has provided a good description of the physics operating principles, engineering mechanisms and economic costs.
  8. Submission of a report to high academic standards.
  9. Has provided graphical visualization of the spacecraft design concept and mission profile.
  10. Demonstration of innovative and/or novel elements in the design.
  11. Demonstration of management of the project consistent with how major projects are organized.
  12. Has demonstrated an international element to the project.
  13. Demonstration of sufficient media coverage of the concept.
  14. Demonstration of an educational activity pertaining to the concept and its relation to interstellar travel.

The winner(s) of the competition would be awarded a cash prize, somewhere in the region of $10,000 – $100,000 provided by a philanthropic donor or the non-profit body organizing the competition. The academic competition would focus interstellar research towards specific design studies and the ultimate objective of the competition is to increase the technology readiness of different interstellar propulsion schemes. After running the competition for two decades we may find that what may emerge is not a single choice for going to the stars in the coming centuries, but instead a realization that it is a combination of approaches with highly optimized engineering designs that will be the way to go. This may suggest hybrid propulsion schemes and could for example be along the lines of a fusion-based drive with anti-proton catalyzed reactions but using a nuclear electric engine for supplementary power and perhaps a solar sail and MagSail for solar system escape or upon arrival. From the two decades of research will develop reliable engineering studies, practical progress of the technology and several clear front runner designs to focus initially divergent research options towards the proper investment into the clear front runner designs by a process of gradual down select. Human beings need a challenge to force us to progress technologically and push our ideas out from just being theoretical concepts.

The Alpha Centauri Prize Awards are a set of research incentivisers, technology enablers, inspiration drivers, system disruptors and educational motivator. A competition of the sort proposed here would represent a major step forward for interstellar research laying the seeds for the first probe to be sent towards another star. Arguably one of the most famous competitions in history was the space race for the Moon. Although motivated by nation state rivalry, it did bring about tremendous advances in technology and a sense of optimism that humankind can accomplish the seemingly impossible. Turning interstellar research into a competition will be one sure way to ensure we get to the stars sooner, rather than later, whilst producing many reliable reference studies along the way. When in competition, mankind is at his best – to accomplish the seemingly impossible dream of interstellar flight we must embrace our nature and shoot for the finish line, even if the marathon is a century long. We’re in this for the long haul, but we can shorten the journey by facilitating faster progress today by competitive, but peaceful tools. The full version of the Alpha Centauri Prize is one way to accomplish this.

If you would like to get involved with helping to organize these prizes or sponsor any of the prizes please get in touch with us.

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Fritz Zwicky’s solar starship

Here’s an unusual method of interstellar flight – don’t bother building a starship, just use the Sun itself to take you there.

In principle it is not quite as crazy as it may at first sound. In a sense, our Sun is already a ‘starship’, taking its retinue of planets, including us, on a journey around the Milky Way Galaxy that lasts 225–250 million years per orbit, moving at 230 kilometres per second. Just thinking about that motion makes me feel dizzy.

Taking this in mind, the brilliant but somewhat eccentric astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky once proposed using the Sun as an engine to take us to the alpha Centauri system in 2,500 years. His idea was based around firing particle beams or ‘pellets’ at the Sun to create a hot spot in the solar photosphere where fusion reactions could take place. This would lead to powerful flares and eruptions that would begin to nudge the Sun in the opposite direction. Of course, letting off flares could potentially be hazardous, should a massive coronal mass ejection be accidentally be pointed towards Earth.

         Above: The Sun, imaged by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Details of Zwicky’s scheme are scant, appearing in his 1969 book ‘Discovery, Invention, Research – Through the Morphological Approach’, an English translation of the German original. There’s no discussion of any calculations of the energies involved on the Internet, nor how the Solar System should approach the alpha Centauri triple system without gravitationally disturbing the stars of any orbiting planets, so it is hard to judge Zwicky’s proposal from a theoretical point of view. Would firing particle beams at the Sun even have the required effect? But it’s fun to speculate and to think ‘outside of the box’ as Zwicky was so successful at doing throughout his career (as an astronomer at Caltech, he also discovered dark matter and developed the theory behind supernovae and neutron stars).

The ability to move the stars around at will would be pretty impressive. Perhaps some advanced extraterrestrial civilisation out there has that power. Maybe we should look to stars with anomalously large proper motions. Is Barnard’s Star, which has the highest proper motion of any star in the sky at 10.3 arcseconds per year, at its distance of 5.98 light years, simply a refugee ejected from a binary star system or is it being deliberately driven? Astronomers even observed a giant flare on the star in 1998, which reached temperatures as high as 8,000 degrees Celsius, which is 2,500 degrees Celsius hotter than the Sun’s surface, or photosphere. Given that Barnard’s Star is a red dwarf with an average surface temperature typically languishing at 2,860 degrees Celsius, that’s a heck of an increase. Now, I’m not suggesting that extraterrestrials are using Barnard’s Star as a spacecraft, only that should such a feat be possible (and that’s a big if), we might expect it to look something akin to the speeding red dwarf.

Clearly with our current technology it would be better to build a Daedalus style ship than attempt a solar starship – in all likelihood the energies required to tickle the Sun would be far greater than what we can manage at the present time. (Ironically, if we are ever able to generate such energies in the future, it will likely be through the collection of solar power, thereby turning the Sun’s energy back on itself.) And yet, before we judge Zwicky’s idea insane, we should note that Zwicky isn’t the only person to propose such an audacious plan.

                        Above: Fritz Zwicky.

In the February 2008 issue of the American science magazine ‘Discover’, computer scientist Jaron Lanier proposed moving the Sun and some nearby stars around into a pattern he calls a ‘graphstellation’ to get the attention of ET. His plan wasn’t to use Zwicky’s method of bombarding the Sun with high energy particle beams (there’s no reference in his article to Zwicky’s ideas, or even an indication that he is aware of them) but to reorganise the larger Kuiper Belt Objects, like dwarf planets Pluto, Eris, Makemake and Haumea, so that their combined gravitational pull on the Sun acts like a tractor, tugging the Sun in the direction we want to take it. Meanwhile spacecraft will be sent out to nearby stars to do the same there (perhaps this could be part of the mission of self-replicating probes, as I talked about at I4IS’ recent Philosophy of the Starship symposium). A graphstellation would therefore be an unnatural pattern of stars, such as that proposed by Piet Hut of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, which involves a pair of a pair of a pair of double stars – so imagine two double star systems next to each other, like the famous ‘Double Double’ of epsilon Lyrae, next to another pair of double stars, and then the whole system of eight stars replicated in identical fashion ‘next door’. The chances of such a system turning up in nature are slim, so it would be like a sign that shouts ‘someone’s here!’ like graffiti splashed on a wall. Of course, this could take many millions of years to arrange – a true long term project for only the most advanced of civilisations.

There are multiple star systems of four, five, even six stars (the famous Mizar and Alcor pairing in the handle of the Plough in Ursa Major is in fact a six-star system, as is Castor in Gemini) so anything more complicated would stand out. Finding it would be like searching for a needle in a haystack, however; there are at least 200 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, the vast majority too faint or too far away to be seen clearly, if at all. Still, with large-scale surveys with ground-based and space-based observatories, it is feasible that should anything like that exist, it could crop up (perhaps that could be the next crowd-sourcing science experiment!).

           Above: Can the Solar System be ‘driven’ around the Galaxy?
Image: NASA.

Zwicky’s ideas, or even those of Jaron Lanier, may never come to pass, but that’s not the point. The key thing is that Zwicky came up with an alternative, something different to the established concepts of space travel. If nuclear fusion rockets, solar sails and ships riding on microwave beams prove inefficient at permitting interstellar travel, we may be forced to think of concepts outside of the box, and for that we can take inspiration from Fritz Zwicky’s mode of independent thinking.

For anyone interested, you can read Jaron Lanier’s Discover article here:

There’s also a great article on Fritz Zwicky’s career, mentioning his ‘Sun as a starship’ proposal, here:

Keith Cooper

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New Director Announcement: Robert G Kennedy III

I am pleased to announce the appointment of Robert G Kennedy III, who joins the Board of Directors for the Institute For Interstellar Studies.


Robert was educated in the classics and foreign languages since boyhood (Latin, Greek, Arabic, and Russian). He studied studied mechanical engineering at California Polytechnic (Pomona, B.S. 1986), with emphases in robotics, machine design, optical physics. Fresh out of school, he designed industrial robotics systems at the Douglas Aircraft Company (1987-1991) in Los Angeles, and pursued research in artificial intelligence at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (1987). Robert founded the Ultimax Group, Inc. (1992-present, ), a Russian-American company in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  He is a published commercial artist and author (nonfiction), and has written about space-based solar power, shell worlds, climate change, linguistics, energy parks, biofuels, and energy security.  In 2011 and 2013, he co-organized and sponsored the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshops ( in Oak Ridge Tennessee and Huntsville Alabama, lectured on geoengineering in Moscow for the Russian Academy of Sciences / Rosgidromet (their national weather service), and also at the International Academy of Astronautics in Aosta, Italy.  His work has also appeared in /Journal of the British Interplanetary Society/, /Acta Astronautica/, the /Whole Earth Review/ and a cover story on Soviet Star Wars in the Smithsonian /Air & Space/ magazine.  He has patents and trademarks pending for a number of optoelectronic, robotic, security, and space system inventions as well as the concept of Tetrageneration(TM). As the American Society of Mechanical Engineer’s 1994 Congressional Fellow, he spent his year working for the Subcommittee on Space in the U.S. House of Representatives. He participated in the First Interstellar Robotics Conference at NYU, and was a technical consultant on “Deep Impact” (Paramount/Dreamworks major motion picture released May 8, 1998).  He is past-chair of the Oak Ridge Section as well as the Technology & Society Division; and currently sits on the Society’s national Energy Committee, tasked with writing Energy Talking Point papers for the 110th thru 113th Congresses and the Society’s Carbon Statement. Currently, Robert is a senior systems engineer at Tetra Tech.

I am sure that Roberts contributions to this exciting enterprise will be one to watch.

Best wishes

Kelvin F.Long

Executive Director I4IS


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The Philosophy of the Starship, May 29th 2013, Symposium

On Wednesday 29th May the Institute for Interstellar Studies hosted our first conference which took place at the Head Quarters of the London based British Interplanetary Society {}. Chaired by I4IS Academy Director Rob Swinney, the one day meeting featured six presentations followed by a workshop session.

Rob Swinney introduces the Proceedings

First Rob Swinney gave an introduction to I4IS and briefly discussed our mission, vision and some of the activities we were currently undertaking related to our permanent founding. This includes the online newsletter Principium edited by Keith Cooper and produced by Adrian Mann. Rob discussed the Educational Academy, research projects and the enterprise arm of the substitute.

The first speaker of the day was Executive Director Kelvin F.Long who spoke about “The Invention of the Starship”. He talked about the approach adopted by the Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci and argued that because we today are designing Starships which use technologies perhaps decades to centuries ahead of our time, we too are students of the Masters legacy. Kelvin discussed the approach by human civilization to the solution of the Starship problem by bending, stretching and perturbing the Tziolkovsky rocket equation.

Next up was I4IS Researcher Stephen Ashworth who discussed “The Philosophical Heritage of the Starship”. He argued that the Starship philosophy is unique in that it projects galactic scale expansion for the human species and its descendants for a period of some millions of years to come. Ashworth also argued that the Starship philosophy is a necessary successor to liberal humanism, which must now therefore include the exponential growth of extra-terrestrial industries and populations, or else be destroyed together with the civilization it created.

Stephen Ashworth address the crowd

After the first coffee break I4IS Director Keith Cooper (who is also the Editor of Principium) discussed “Von Neumann Probes”. He described the origin of the von Neumann probe concept and some of the technologies that were being investigated today which could bring such probes into reality. He also described so called Bracewell probes and imagined Extraterrestrials sending their own probes to venture out into space to explore the Universe and make contact with other intelligent species. Cooper saw nanotechnology and 3D printing as some of the key enablers behind Von Neumann machines.

Keith Cooper discusses von Neumann Probes

This was followed by a lecture from Dr Bob Parkinson, for whose honour the symposium had been dedicated, based on his three 1970s publications in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society:

  • Parkinson, B, The Starship as a Philosophical Vehicle, JBIS, 28, 11, November 1975.
  • Parkinson, B, The Starship As An Exercise In Economics, JBIS, 27, 9, pp.692-696, September 1974.
  • Parkinson, B, The Starship as Third Generation Technology, JBIS, 27, 4, pp.295-300, April 1974

Bob spoke about “The Philosophy of the Starship – Revisited”. Parkinson argued that the concept of a long-term, open ended project like the Starship raised questions about why the human race should engage in such an endeavour. Thinking about such a project inevitably means considering the effects of change – not only in our technology, but also in our understanding of the world and even to ourselves.

Rob Swinney introduces Daedalus pioneer Bob Parkinson

Lunch is Served surrounded by space memorabilia

After an excellent lunch of roast Salmon cooked by the BIS staff, I4IS Senior Advisory Council member Dr Ian Crawford kicked of the afternoons discussions with a talk on “Avoiding Intellectual Stagnation: The Starship as an Expander of Minds”. He spoke about some of the motivations for travelling to the stars, particularly from a scientific perspective, which included studying the interstellar medium and astrophysical studies of target stars. He also described the inevitable coupling between science and the arts and how each would influence each other as we aspire to travel to the stars.

Ian Crawford answers questions

This was followed by a talk from an independent Martin Ciupa titled “The Ethical Implications of Cultural Intervention by Space Faring Civilizations – What Science Fiction has to say”. He argued that science fiction doesn’t just illuminate philosophy, but in fact the genre grew out of philosophy. He also argued that science fiction plays out the concerns of our possible scientistic futures, it is a source for exploring the deep rooted psychological concerns of mankind with science and the humanities.

Martin Ciupa discusses "2001: A Space Odyssey"

The final talk of the day was from Frederik Ceyssens representing Icarus Interstellar and the Fourth Millennium Foundation. He spoke about “Future Geopolitical Scenarios, Their Dominant Philosophy and the Impact thereof on Deep Space”. He describes the various geopolitical scenarios (including fictional) which could lead to a spirit of global co-operation, exploratory mindset and larger scale, long term thinking for space.

Frederik Ceyssens showing gorgeous imagery of Project Orion

The afternoon was completed by a 1.5 hour workshop discussion led by Kelvin F.Long on a proposed laser-sail propulsion project titled Project Dragonfly.  This was the I4IS first conference, and all were agreed it was a success. The event was tweeted live throughout the day and you can catch up with those on our twitter account @institute4IS. With a high attendance and lively discussions it made for an interesting day which is sure to be repeated at a future time. A full write up of the day’s events and workshop discussion will appear in the next issue of Principium and all of the papers will be submitted for publication in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society to form the proceedings of the day’s events. So watch out for both of those.

The I4IS team expresses our gratitude to the staff of the British Interplanetary Society who helped to run the event: Suszann Parry, Mary Todd and Ben Jones. Stephen Baxter is thanked for originally suggesting the title of the conference.

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Starship Century Day 2

Day 2 of the San Diego Starship Century symposium gets off with a talk by Adam Crowl. View the talks via the live stream here:


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Starship Century

The Starship Century symposium got started today at the UC San Diego, Qualcomm Institute, Atkinson Hall Auditorium. This is co-ordinated by the new Arthur C Clarke Center for the Human Imagination. You can read more about the event on the web site here:

and you can watch live feeds of the event here:



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Icarus Interstellar KickStarter

The US non-profit Icarus Interstellar has today kicked off its KickStarter campaign to raise $10,000 for organising the Starship Congress, held 15-18 August 2013. You can read more about the Congress on their web site here:


If you want to donate to the KickStarter campaign, go here:


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