Too Long to the Stars

I was reading on the BBC about a proposed mission to interstellar space.

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The Interstellar Probe, proposed by John Hopkins University, could be a truly exciting endeavour, breaching the Heliosphere, the outermost limit of our suns magnetic field, and venturing into interstellar space, viewing our solar system from the outside and studying the nature of space and radiation between the stars.

The only spacecraft to date to reach this far from home were Voyager 1 and 2. Launched in the late 1970’s to visit the planets in the outer solar system, they kept travelling outwards after fulfilling their missions, and forty years later officially left the solar system; though they weren’t carrying the right instruments to properly explore this new domain.

Assuming the Interstellar Probe took fifteen years to build (not unusual for such an expensive and demanding mission) and a similar time to get there as it took Voyager, a lot of the people reading this wouldn’t be around to see it arriving at its destination, let alone see the analysis of what it discovered.

This isn’t only trues for and interstellar mission. Any mission to the outer plants using conventional chemical rocket propulsion will always to take a very long time to get to its destination. Cassini–Huygens took seven years to get to Saturn. And given the very long flight time, it becomes even more important that the spacecraft is built hardy enough to ensure it will survive for such a long flight, which in itself will require longer to even build it in the first place.

That’s not a reason not to undertake such missions, and certainly national space agencies and those that work for them are happy to start such work knowing fully that only their successors, even their descendants, will see it’s mission completed. But wouldn’t it be good if we could find a way to get there faster?

Certainly, as someone in the second half of their life, I’d be a fan of that idea.

In the following articles I will explore different propulsion technologies and mission scenarios for travelling these long distances, generally for robotic missions, but some maybe applicable for crewed missions as well.

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