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November 30, 2018 3 min read

Press release

NASA Awards Grant to Tau Zero Foundation

NASA has awarded a $500,000 grant to the Tau Zero Foundation for a 3-year study titled "Interstellar Propulsion Review." Unlike prior studies, which were based on a specific mission concept, this study is an overall comparison between the different motivations, challenges, and approaches to interstellar flight. The work is split into three major 1-year phases:

  1. Create an interstellar work breakdown structure (WBS) tailored to the divergent challenges and potentially disruptive prospects of interstellar flight in a manner that will allow for 'level-playing-field' comparisons. Prior mission and project information will be used to populate this first WBS.
  2. Identify and work with subject matter experts to populate the WBS with their most recent reliable data.
  3. Analyze uploaded data to identify (1) the most consequential knowledge gaps and (2) recommend research. Once all these phases are completed, the tools and methods are available to repeat the assessments as needed.

YOUR INPUTS SOUGHT

Tau Zero invites the participation of the broader interstellar community to affect this grant.

Seeding Infrastructure

Many interstellar mission concepts rely on substantial infrastructure in our solar system to build, power, and launch their vehicles. What is seldom addressed, however, is how to begin to build that infrastructure, incrementally and affordably. 

Exoplanet Science Instruments

What scientific instruments should an interstellar probe carry to collect meaningful information about an exoplanet – information that cannot be obtained from Earth-based astronomy alone? How close would such a probe need to get to an exoplanet to collect this information and how much time will it take within that distance to collect enough data to reach meaningful conclusions? What volume of data would need to be communicated back to Earth? What are projected mass and power requirements for such instrumentation? 

Foundationally Consistent Baselines

Different mission/vehicle concepts often use different projected performances for common functions such as: (a) heat rejection, (b) energy storage, (c) power management and distribution (PMAD), (d) magnetic nozzles, (e) communication with Earth, (f) equipment longevity, (g) structural mass {if built in space}, and (h) guidance, navigation and control (GNC). Fair comparisons of mission-vehicle concepts are difficult when different values are used for such baseline technologies. 

Consistent Comparison Measures

It is difficult to objectively compare different interstellar propulsion and power concepts that use different fundamental methods with method-specific performance measures (e.g. rocket specific impulse, laser pointing accuracy, etc). 

Humanities – Interstellar Prerequisite of a Mature Humanity

The energy levels required for interstellar flight are large enough to have the potential to become weapons of mass destruction. Hence, a key prerequisite for achieving interstellar flight is not technical, but societal. Human civilization must mature to where it can wield these energy levels for the greater good instead of on each other. 

Humanities – World Ships as a Crucible of Cultural Study

In addition to the physical life support that has to function reliably for centuries aboard world ships, the culture of the on-board colony will also require a sustainably peaceful governance system along with a culture where the individual citizens live meaningful lives. 

Breakthrough Propulsion Physics

In addition to propulsion and power concepts based on known physics, it is prudent to also consider the possibly that new physics discoveries will lead to breakthrough propulsion, such as faster-than-light transport or propellant-less space drives. 

About Tau Zero Foundation

Tau Zero is a 501(c) non-profit organization dedicated to accelerating progress toward the scientific breakthroughs required to support interstellar flight. The Foundation’s efforts, driven by the experts most capable of addressing the formidable challenges of interstellar flight, include fundamental scientific research, encouraging and supporting academic involvement in sciences related to its goals, empowering youth in this quest, forging collaborations for cross-fertilization, and engaging governmental and industry support on a global scale.

Tau Zero’s motto is “Ad Astra Incrementis” – to the stars in ever-expanding steps.


 


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