Universe Today reports that DARPA has put out a Request for Information (RFI) looking for ideas about how a long-term human mission to boldly go out to the stars. It’s been estimated that such a mission would cost over $10 billion, and the idea has gotten $100,000 from NASA and $ 1 million from DARPA – which means that as of now it is just that, an idea.
DARPA is seeking ideas for an organization, business model and approach appropriate for a self-sustaining investment vehicle in support of the 100 Year StarshipTM Study. The 100 Year StarshipTM Study is a project seeded by DARPA to develop a viable and sustainable model for persistent, long-term, private-sector investment into the myriad of disciplines needed to make long-distance space travel practicable and feasible. The genesis of this study is to foster a rebirth of a sense of wonder among students, academia, industry, researchers and the general population to consider “why not” and to encourage them to tackle whole new classes of research and development related to all the issues surrounding long duration, long distance spaceflight. DARPA contends that the useful, unanticipated consequences of such research will have benefit to the Department of Defense and to NASA, and well as the private and commercial sector.
1) deliver to Mars orbit an unmanned Dragon capsule with a kerosene/oxygen chemical rocket stage of sufficient power to drive it back to Earth. This is the Earth Return Vehicle.
2) deliver to the Martian surface an 11-ton payload consisting of a two-ton Mars Ascent Vehicle employing a single methane/oxygen rocket propulsion stage, a small automated chemical reactor system, three tons of surface exploration gear, and a 10-kilowatt power supply, which could be either nuclear or solar. The Mars Ascent Vehicle would carry 2.6 tons of methane in its propellant tanks, but not the nine tons of liquid oxygen required to burn it. Instead, the oxygen could be made over a 500-day period by using the chemical reactor to break down the carbon dioxide that composes 95% of the Martian atmosphere. Using technology to generate oxygen rather than transporting it saves a great deal of mass and provides power and unlimited oxygen once the crew arrives.
3) Send a Dragon capsule with two astronauts to Mars. The capsule would carry 2,500 kilograms of consumables—sufficient, if water and oxygen recycling systems are employed, to support the two-person crew for up to three years
Also in play is the question of whether the ten detections could be of gas giants in planetary orbits around stars that were simply not detected. The study sees no host stars within 10 AU, a figure that remains relatively close to any potential host. We don’t have a firm answer, and I see that Alan Boss (Carnegie Institution) told the New York Times’ Dennis Overbye that this scenario is the more likely one. If that’s the case, then we should look with even greater interest at data from the WISE (Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer) mission, which should have been able to spot any gas giant lurking in the distant regions of the Oort Cloud. Ten detections like this would imply such outer orbits may be common around stars.