Interstellar Dreaming and Photonic Long Bets

A fellow blogger of exotic science, Jim Essig, is a thinker of great thoughts.

He is a regular commenter on Centauri Dreams and has his own blog. His thoughts he posts on his site I think might scare some people away in their complexity, but he dreams of manned interstellar travel like Paul Gilster and others do.

Maybe one of Jim’s ideas will come to fruition, he literally thinks outside of the box at times.

But when it comes to rockets, I seriously doubt humanity will ever use them for interstellar flight, because of the limits on travel times and the cost and weight of the fuel necessary to accomplish the mission.

But that doesn’t stop Jim from coming up with some pretty far-out schemes:

I had an interesting idea regarding optimized photon rockets.

The first idea involves the concept of simply an ordinary photon rocket chamber with a blackbody emitter which is anywhere from the temperature of a tungsten filament of an incandescent light bulb (about 3600 K) to that of some exotic yet to be developed black body emitter at say 100,000 K.

The idea is augmented by the concept of a nuclear fusion reactor power source that powers a turboelectric steam driven generator wherein all of the waste heat or almost all of the waste heat is captured and used to drive lower transition temperature material based steam turbines. The whole ship could be enclosed by highly conducting if not superconducting outer walls in order to keep sub millimeter IR and microwave energy from escaping into the interstellar medium.

The beautiful aspect of such a machine is that the effective Isp at least for the exhaust stream would be 30,000,000 seconds commensurate with the speed of light in a vacuum. Another idea would be to power lasers which direct their energy in a beam that is essentially unidirectional for added efficiency over a non-coherent energy emitter.

Another option would entail a matter antimatter reactor to provide turboelectric power for the blackbody emitter or laser beam generator all else being essentially the same as the previous example given above.

Still a more efficient system would carry only antimatter fuel and collect the reactive normal matter from interstellar space. Can you imagine the gamma factor possible for a photon rocket powered by such a system wherein the end cycle efficiency in terms of the latent fuel energy to final kinetic energy transfer to the ship approached 100 percent, or even only 95 percent.

Jim talks a lot about gamma factors. I think it has something to do with time dilation. I have to ask him later.

The point is, despite Jim’s esoteric rocket tech, I believe it’ll only be used for the initial, primitive excursions.

Which brings me to Paul’s post yesterday about the bet he made with Tibor Pacher and that it might have already been lost :

In the midst of all this interstellar musing, in came an e-mail from the SETI League’s Paul Shuch, opining that the bet has already been won and, moreover, that Tibor is the victor! Let me quote Paul:


I would argue that the first interstellar missions have already launched, and that (with only a little imagination) they meet the conditions of the bet. They are not spacecraft, but rather streams of photons. Think about it: interstellar microwave transmissions probe other civilizations’ interest in dialog, and pass numerous stars, thus are “flyby probes” in a sense. They are transmitted specifically for the purpose of reaching other solar systems. They have been “launched” (transmitted) several times from Earth, which is clearly within the orbit of Neptune. Some have conveyed scientific information about Earth, which satisfies the condition that they “deliver data for at least one scientific measurement.” They travel at the speed of light, so within the 2,000 year mission duration, will reach stars within 2,000 LY of our own Sun. And they are widely supported by the public, as witness the large number of humans who have submitted messages to the various projects that beam them into space. So, congratulations Tibor, you win!


Remind me not to play poker with Paul, who in the following e-mail exchange added that his argument was a bit of a Kobayashi Maru — a more or less no-win situation, for those of you not familiar with Star Trek lore. The key word here is ‘deliver,’ for now that I read through our Long Bets terms, I see that the operative sentence is ‘As a minimum requirement for the mission the spacecraft shall be capable to deliver data for at least one scientific measurement.’ Now, slapping forehead with palm, I wish Tibor had written (and I had agreed to) ‘return’ instead of ‘deliver’ data! Although I’m not conceding, I do invite Paul to join us for Champagne in 2025, and maybe Ray Villard can join us as well.

Ray Villard is the science writer who recently wrote an article about the rocket engineers who lament the impossibility of interstellar travel via rockets, though the impression I get is he thinks the concept is possible.

The common link between these two posts is the use of photons to carry out the mission, though in different ways.

After reading these ideas, my own concept would require the use of quantum entanglement of photons between here and the target being investigated in order to perform a variation of “remote viewing”. No fuss, no muss and no rockets to fuel up.

Of course it would require advanced computer tech and extreme software, the very thing Gilster admits that he didn’t take into account enough.

We are at the stage where we have our own contemporary Tsiolkovskys and Bernals putting forward advanced theories of interstellar travel and how to conduct it like they did for interplanetary rocket flight one hundred years ago.

All we need are our own versions of Goddard, Oberth and Von Braun.

Without the wars and genocide of course.

A Multitude of Interstellar Space Travel Concepts, PART 1: The Possibility of Highly Isp Optimized Photon Rockets, Rapidly Orbiting Extremely Electrically Charged Black-holes Regarding Electrogravatic Effects, Musings on the Indefinate Human Life Expectancy Extension Regarding Moderately Relativistic Manned Interstellar Space Travel Through Space, The Possible Use of Paralell Histories to Provide Fuel to Enhance the Yield of Thermonuclear Devices, Cold Dark Matter Analogues of Fusion Pellet Runways for Powering Manned Interstellar Space Craft, and Musings on the Distant Future Construction of Particle Accellerators of Cosmic Dimensions

Interstellar Flight in Context: A Bet Already Won?

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7 responses

  1. Hi dad2059…

    Based on unfolding economic events I’d say fairly soon NASA won’t even be lifting off much less anyone going to the stars. There’s also a huge chasm between theory and engineering the physical reality of such proposed vessels.

    We’ve only begun to scratch the surface concerning nano materials etc. No one even has the foggiest notion of how to handle anti-matter of any quantity. Magnetic bottles/tanks sound good no?! Witness what happened to the new Large Hadron Collider when a transformer blew up. So you are a 100 parsecs from earth and one of the many assemblies and subassemblies that can fail will do so, then what?! The 100 trillion dollar mission becomes another “writeoff” for American tax slaves…no?

    Manned trips of this type will have to have intense redundancy in terms of mechanisms etc. otherwise they’ll have to tow along a parts warehouse with them… : ))

    We need to solve the worlds energy crisis before we head out anywhere beyond the beltway. Then our national resources won’t be flowing down a rathole into the pockets of our enemies such as those found in the Middle East and elsewhere.

    Solar, wind, natural gas, then onto hydrogen powered vehicles is where the scientific focus should be during the next ten years and executed with the intensity of the Manhattan Project. Once out energy needs are solved then we’ll have plenty of capital for such interstellar adventures.

    I’m also providing a link explaining “gamma” . Question of the day? How forshortened does a proton become that’s being accelerated in the Large Hadron Collider at 99.999 percent the velocity of light ? The diameter of a proton at rest is
    1.65×10−15 meters

    http://webs.morningside.edu/slaven/Physics/relativity/relativity6.html

    Carl Nemo **==

  2. I dunno Nemo, but here’s the formula for you brainiacs out there:

    y ( gamma ) = 1/ sqrt ( 1 – ( v^2/ c^2 ) )

    BTW, thanks for the answer, that puts what Jim says into greater perspective.

    Yeah, it doesn’t look good for USS Fiat Federal Reserve Notes or any other paper IOUs, the Hindenberg has sprung a leak and someone is going outside to “light” up a smoke!

    Looks like a rerun of the End of the Roman Empire and another 1500 years of living in pig-shit! X^P

  3. “the Hindenberg has sprung a leak and someone is going outside to “light” up a smoke!”

    LOLROTFL…spot-on dad!

    Nemo **==

  4. But back on topic, when Verne and Wells were writing their fiction, military cannon technology was highly advanced while rockets were little more than Fourth of July fare, so their interplanetary vehicles were shot out of huge cannons to the targets ( Vernes’ from the Earth to the Moon, Wells’ War of the Worlds ).

    These guys almost got it right, except for the means.

    And remember, it took eighty years from Tsiolkovsky’s theories to the Saturn V.

    Personally, IMHO, I think the Pentagon already has a non-rocket means of getting around the Solar System and actual “stargate” tech.

    But that’s a ‘whacko conspiracy’ theory, isn’t it?

  5. Hi dad2059;

    Thanks for the kind comments.

    Novel yet to be developed concepts like wormhole travel, warp drive, electromagnetic field based teleportation concepts will kick butt on any of my proposed rocket techniques.

    One of my great hopes is to see some paradigm changing discoveries at the LHC after it is repaired. Other very useful machines are the Tevatron at FermiLab which is currently in operation, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the planned Rare Isotope Collider and the National Ignition Facility under construction within the United States. In addition, a proposed Linac to accelerate electrons to collision energies of 1 TeV to 2 TeV in in the works. I think some cool ohysics is just around the corner.

    Thanks;

    Your Friend Jim

  6. Hi dad2059 et al. …

    I thought someone would have come forth and given us the dimension of a proton at 99.999 percent the speed of light. There was a simple chart in the link I provided. The Gamma factor at this speed is 22.4 and the reciprocal of Gamma is 1/22.4 which is 0.044642857142857142857142857142857 which rounded is .045 as on the chart.

    So we take .045 x 1.65×10 -15 meters and come up with a proton that would have visibly shrunk to .07425 x 10-15 meters or expressed correctly in scientific notation as 7.425 x 10-17 meters shorter along the length of it’s central axis; ie., its diameter in the direction of motion as observed from a stationary observer perpendicular to the protons path. So it has shrunk two orders of magnitude in size. It would become zero at the speed light, but according to theory it would take an infinite amount of energy to achieve such a speed even with a single proton. Gamma is “infinite” and length would be zero. The reciprocal of infinity is undefinable therefore a violation of the basis for gamma itself.

    I didn’t do this show off, but to demonstrate that simply reading the link material and using the provided chart one could have come up with the answer without using the base equation for the calculation of gamma.

    One thing we do know is the kinetic energy of these single protons are enormous something on the order of 17 TEV, trillion electron volts colliding with each other. Once source said the collision of these two particles head on, in the LHC was the equivalent of two Japanese bullet trains having a headon collision…!

    Carl Nemo **==

  7. Even with the chart Nemo, I still couldn’t figure it out! ❓

    Math wasn’t my strength anyway, English and History were.

    But keep your challenge out there, I bet Jim Essig could do it!

    BTW, the LHC is fried until spring, FUBAR real good!

    I wonder if the EU taxpayers are mad about that?

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