Hungary-based space illustrator Adrian Mann is a graphical engineer for Project Icarus, an effort to research the possibilities for interstellar travel. When scientists conceive of spaceships for travel to another star, most proposals require advanced and exotic propulsion mechanisms, including nuclear power and antimatter power. The following illustrations by Mann show some of the proposed concepts for vehicles to take us beyond the solar system.
During the Apollo program, NASA investigated many options for uprating the Saturn V, from stretching the 1st stage to adding enormous solid rocket boosters, and even a nuclear powered upper stage – NERVA – that could be used for missions to Mars.
Two nuclear powered NERVA spacecraft being assembled in orbit, with the crew being ferried with an early design space shuttle, for the journey to Mars.
The Saturn V could also have carried an Orion spacecraft to orbit. Powered by nuclear explosions, the Orion spacecraft leaves orbit for Mars.
The Orion Mars spacecraft shown here has a crew accommodation section, 2 Mars landers in the form of lifting bodies, and enough small nuclear devices to propel the ship to and from Mars.
Given the colossal power of nuclear explosions, enormous Orion ships were envisaged, to be launched from remote desert areas such as Jackass Flats in the Nevada Test Range.
The major problem with trying to devise a ship to travel between the stars is that of fuel. Robert Bussard devised a ship that would use a huge magnetic funnel to collect hydrogen from space to use as fuel in an interstellar ramjet.
While Bussard's spacecraft concept looks appealing, calculations have shown that the thrust of the engine may not be enough to overcome drag caused by the magnetic funnel.
During the early 1970s, a team from the British Interplanetary Society carried out the world’s first serious engineering study of an interstellar vehicle – Project Daedalus.
Daedalus was conceived as a two-stage vehicle, which would attain a speed of 12 percent of the speed of light, for a 50-year voyage to reach Barnard's Star.
Weighing in at 60,000 tons when fully fuelled, Daedalus would dwarf even the Saturn V rocket.
The Daedalus spacecraft's spherical tanks contain the fuel pellets for the nuclear fusion engine.
Daedalus' Deuterium/Helium 3 fuel pellets are injected into the engine, where they are hit by electron beams, compressing them to the point that fusion occurs. Magnetic fields contain the expanding plasma.
During Daedalus' two years of first stage engine firing, empty fuel tanks are jettisoned to reduce weight.
Once all Daedalus' first stage fuel is consumed, the first stage is jettisoned and the second stage continues to accelerate for another 1.8 years – the vehicle now coasts, unpowered, for the remainder of the 50-year voyage.
Daedalus' second stage carries radio telescopes, 2 5m optical telescopes, 18 probes, two autonomous spacecraft known as Wardens, computers, power supplies and a Beryllium erosion shield.
Daedalus' flyby of the target system would be over in a matter of hours, the data being relayed back to Earth, using the engine bell as a parabolic radio antenna.
VARIES – Vacuum to Antimatter Rocket Interstellar Explorer System, is a concept from Richard Obousy that would use enormous solar arrays to generate power for extremely powerful lasers, which, when fired at empty space, would create particles of antimatter which could be stored and used as fuel. The process would be used at the vehicle's destination to create fuel for the return journey.
It was envisaged that the Daedalus starship would be constructed in orbit around the Jovian moon Europa.
Project Icarus is looking again at interstellar spacecraft, in the light of new developments in physics, materials and astronomy. A series of smaller test vehicles is envisaged to test the new technologies.
A potential spacecraft called Icarus Pathfinder would be powered by VASIMR engines, taking it out to 1,000 AU (the distance between the Earth and sun).
A potential spacecraft called Icarus Pathfinder would be powered by VASIMR engines, taking it out to 1,000 AU (1AU is the distance between the Earth and sun).
Obtaining the exotic fuels needed for interstellar flight is a major challenge – here a scheme is shown where a spacecraft in low orbit around Jupiter lowers an extremely long tube into the atmosphere, sucking up and processing gases.
Another spaceship fuel-mining scheme involves balloon miners in the atmosphere of Uranus, where gases would be collected and processed, and then carried to the fuelling site by smaller tanker spacecraft.
Project Icarus is currently at a very early stage and no definitive design has been selected – this illustration shows one possible candidate concept for an interstellar spacecraft.
This Icarus concept starship uses Graphene as a shield material to protect the vehicle during the voyage to another star.
Future starships may be constructed in Earth orbit using a ring-type construction facility, which could have hotel rooms where guests could observe the construction.
SKYLON, a concept vehicle from Reaction Engines Ltd., is an entirely reusable single stage-to-orbit launch vehicle, based on revolutionary engine technology.
The SKYLON concept vehicle consists of a slender fuselage containing propellant tankage and payload bay, with delta wings attached midway along the fuselage carrying the SABRE engines in axisymmetric nacelles on the wingtips. The vehicle takes off and lands horizontally on its own undercarriage.
The SKYLON concept spaceship payload bay can be used for a wide variety of missions, and can carry up to 16.5 tons to low-Earth orbit.
The SKYLON concept vehicle payload bay can be used for a wide variety of missions, and can carry up to 16.5 tons to low-Earth orbit.
The key to SKYLON's success will be the SABRE engine, which employs a revolutionary heat exchanger to chill the incoming air before it is fed to the engines. A Hybrid Air-breathing / Rocket Engine, SABRE represents a huge advance over LACE Technology.
Using a recoverable upper stage, the concept spacehip SKYLON can deliver communications satellites to geosynchronous orbit, and then retrieve the upper stage and return it to Earth to be reused for further missions.
With a Personnel and Logistics module in the payload bay, cargo, supplies and crews could be delivered to the International Space Station by the proposed SKYLON vehicle, extending the outpost's useful life.
Reaction engines have devised a series of modules to demonstrate the proposed spaceship SKYLON's capabilities. Here, a space station has been assembled using docking, habitation, power, airlock and laboratory modules.
With the addition of two inflatable modules, an orbiting hotel could be created for up to 20 guests by the concept vehicle SKYLON.
With additional modules, a refuelling base could be constructed for ‘Fluyt’ orbital transfer vehicles by the SKYLON craft.
The Fluyt orbital transfer vehicles could also be used to construct and service large geostationary communications platforms.
At the end of 2008, a feasibility study began into the use of a space-based Orbital Transfer Vehicle named Fluyt in order to investigate the performance of a reusable rocket stage that would be permanently based in low-Earth orbit.
The concept of an Orbital Base Station (OBS) was studied to demonstrate that large, highly modular structures could be built in low-Earth orbit, providing accommodation for the crews, protection from orbital debris, continuous internal lighting and propellant storage. Such a facility would enable large ships for the exploration of the moon and Mars to be constructed.
The proposed Troy mission is envisaged to be performed in two parts: an unmanned, precursor mission, and the later manned mission. Using SKYLON, the elements for the Troy ships are delivered to an Orbital Base Station, where the components are assembled.
The proposed Troy vehicle's transit time to Mars would be 264 days, and on arrival, the three landing modules would be deployed to land at a pre-selected site, forming a base. Three precursor ships would be sent, forming three bases on Mars that would enable the rovers to reach more than 90 percent of the Martian surface.