This October the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop is hosting a special Symposium at the Y-12 New Hope Center in Oak Ridge TN that will promote safe, fast, and affordable human development of our solar system – the first real steps to becoming an interstellar civilization.
Leaders from NASA, DOE ARPA-E, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Y-12 National Security Complex, and several private companies will convene to evaluate how, within a decade, breakthrough technologies can greatly accelerate the establishment of permanent colonies on the moon and the first human trips to Mars and asteroids. TVIW 2018 will implement a synergistic approach to space advocacy, using the symposium to link together critical technologies that will catalyze major human space activities by 2030.
Currently there is a growing belief within private industry and NASA that nuclear power and propulsion are essential for safe and efficient space development.
1. High Impulse Nuclear Propulsion – A huge step forward in compact nuclear reactor design was proved by DARPA in the $330 Million Timberwind Program from 1988 to 2003. It remains the most advanced candidate technology for space propulsion. Upper stage nuclear rockets (i.e. used only in space) can enable human trips to Mars in thirty days rather than multiple years. Nuclear propulsion is also vital for capture and engineering of small (10-meter diameter) near-earth asteroids (NEA) that can facilitate space habitats safe from solar and cosmic radiation. Space solar power and other major industries will be rapidly enabled.
2. Fiber Optic High Energy Lasers – Key to efficient wireless power transmission and proven by DARPA for near-term applications, this very mature, high-efficiency technology can lead directly to megawatt-class power beaming capabilities for space power and propulsion. Laser light sails are a fundamentally crucial application extending to interstellar propulsion.
3. High Temperature Superconductors – This technology will radically transform all types of electrical applications when fully exploited. It has been developed for thirty years at ORNL and is ready for many game-changing implementations. For example, Magnetically Inflated Cable (MIC) technology can enable very large, low weight and rigid space structures for solar concentrators. This can implement capture of 10-meter diameter near-earth asteroids to lunar orbits, where they can be robotically engineered to solve radiation shielding and artificial gravity problems for human travel.
4. Large Scale 3-D Printing – ORNL and its innovative manufacturing spin-offs are world leaders in this vital new technology. There are direct links to in-space manufacturing possibilities using readily available regolith materials on the moon and asteroids.
5. Self-Replicating Von Neumann Machines – This concept will be a vital component to expedite robotic space habitat engineering and large-scale production capabilities on the moon, Mars, and asteroids. Hierarchal Von Neumann machines are an important next-generation spin-off: Very small machines can build ever-larger machines using ambient materials and solar energy. Ever larger and more fiscally powerful space industries will result.
6. Solar Power Satellites – Formerly regarded as “pie in the sky,” space solar power with microwave or laser power beaming to the Earth, moon, or planets is now a real possibility. Persuasive concepts already exist for in-space production and deployment of all of the components. Combining the above notions of small asteroid capture for raw materials and Von Neumann machines for ever expanding production capabilities, concepts are viable for totally pollution-free, open-ended supplies of solar energy anywhere in the space out to the orbit of Mars.
7. Lightweight Large Aperture Optics — The above MIC technology leads directly to the possibility of building enormous optical telescopes in space at orders of magnitude lower cost than present ground-based technology. Interferometer arrays of kilometer diameter telescopes will enable imaging and physical diagnostics of earth-like planets around nearby stars. The search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) will be greatly augmented. Perhaps most importantly, the science of cosmology will be massively advanced toward ultimate understanding of the origin and destiny of our universe.