Daily Archives: September 12th, 2008

Interstellar X-Prize

My man Paul Gilster of Centauri Dreams posts about Peter Diamandis who proposes an Interstellar X-Prize to help kick-start possible technologies applicable for a flyby of Alpha Centauri:

A future X Prize, Diamandis opines, might be focused on a colonizing mission to Mars. Or it might involve transforming energy into matter (here he recalls Star Trek’s transporters). Maybe we can take the prize notion to outrageous limits and suggest an interstellar component. Heck, we’ll even offer a head-start. In a recent post on his systemic site, exoplanet hunter Greg Laughlin offered an interesting comment on Alpha Centauri, one worth keeping in mind for would be prize designers:

We’re fortunate that we’ve arrived on the scene as a technological society right at the moment when a stellar system as interesting as Alpha Cen is in the very near vicinity. During the last interglacial period, Alpha Cen did not rank among the brightest stars in the sky. A hundred thousand years from now, the Alpha Cen stars will no longer be among our very nearest stellar neighbors, and in a million years, they will have long since faded from naked-eye visibility. At the moment, though, Alpha Centauri is drawing nearer at 25 km/sec, a clip similar to the Earth’s orbital velocity around the Sun. It’s as if we’re on the free trial period of an interstellar mission…

A free trial period is usually enough to quicken the pulse of consumers. So why not use it to tantalize potential prize donors with the prospect of a truly long-term, outlandishly expensive prize, one designed to spur efforts to put a man-made payload with the capability of returning scientific data into the Centauri system? The data returned could well prove less significant than the breakthroughs achieved to make the journey.

How about a prize of a couple of billion bucks? Gold of course. I could picture someone like Branson, Musk or even Google again putting up a prize.

It has to be something large like that to make it worth someone’s time, research for technologies alone needed for interstellar unmanned flyby would cost as much as Bu$hco’s return to the Moon and Mars charade.

Maybe private industry can bring the cost down and there would be several spin-offs ( advanced nanotech, quantum computing, real AI ), but in the end, the prize has to entice.

I propose a Buckyball nanotech package shot out of a linear accelerator from the Moon, or Phobos toward the Sun in a “sundiver/fry” manuever for a serious gravity assist. Once that was done, nanobots can deploy, or “spin” like a spider a light-sail/web a couple of hundred square miles in area to catch a laserbeam from the Moon or Phobos again as it passes by.

It should get 0.3c easily.

Forty years to Alpha Centauri? No problem.

Centauri Flyby: The Ultimate X Prize?
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