Project Icarus -A Design for an Interstellar Spacecraft

Project Icarus -A Design for an Interstellar Spacecraft

Project Icarus: son of Daedalus – flying closer to another star.

Project Icarus is a theoretical design study with the aim of designing a credible interstellar probe that will serve as a concept design for a potential unmanned mission that could be launched before the end of the 21st century. Icarus will utilise fusion based engine technology which would accelerate the spacecraft to approximately 10% to 20% the speed of light. The project is a five year design study that began on the 30th September 2009. A large team is already forming, and to date there has already been one conference, and two journal submissions which are currently in the peer review stages.

It might be too early to say that this project will pave the way for the cheapest airline tickets bound for outerspace, but its projected contributions to space exploration should definitely be huge. Project Icarus is a Tau Zero Foundation initiative in collaboration with The British Interplanetary Society. Both organizations serve to promote the vision of manned space exploration and thus  project Icarus has a solid support base and a well developed intellectual resource.Visit the Project Icarus website

Broadly stated, the purpose of Project Icarus is as follows:

  1. To design a credible interstellar probe that is a concept design for a potential mission in the coming centuries.
  2. To allow a direct technology comparison with Daedalus and provide an assessment of the maturity of fusion based space propulsion for future precursor missions.
  3. To generate greater interest in the real term prospects for interstellar precursor missions that are based on credible science.
  4. To motivate a new generation of scientists to be interested in designing space missions that go beyond our solar system.

The goal of designing a credible interstellar spacecraft is a huge challenge and thus the research has been divided into 20 modules, and this encompases all of the spacecraft systems and sub-systems. These encompass all aspects of the design of the spacecraft.

The project has been set up in three stages:

  • Establish initial design team and complete Terms of Reference by September of Year 1 (2009)
  • Fully assemble design team by the end of Year 1 (2009)
  • Construct research programme by the beginning of Year 2 and Team Icarus officially begins technical work by the spring of Year 2. (March 2010)

We estimate that, with 20 volunteer designers, Project Icarus will require around 35,000 total man hours which will be spread over a five year research programme culminating in the final design.

For comparison, Project Daedalus began on 10th January 1973 and the final reports were published 15th May 1978 taking just over 64 months or over 5 years. The study reports state that around 10,000 man hours were used by 13 core designers and several additional consultants.

The design team for Project Icarus will be split up as follows:

  • Core Design Team: The Core Design Team is the main design group that drives the project forward and performs the majority of the work. All are personally known to each other and also manage the project.
  • Floating Designers: Floating Designers may not be personally known to the team but have agreed to contribute technically to the project by working on a system or sub-system.
  • Consultants: Consultants do not perform the technical work but have a strong an advisory capacity.
  • Reviewers: This is mainly made up of members of the Daedalus study group and has the function of providing a constructive technical review of any work produced by the team at various stages.

 More than thirty years has passed since the landmark Daedalus engineering study. Project Icarus will be a complete redesign of the Daedalus systems including a re-examination of some of the original assumptions. An international team is currently assembling to work on this exciting endeavour and bring the human dream of interstellar travel closer to reality.

Official Project Icarus Logo


Useful Links


Interstellar Propulsion and the Fermi Paradox

Project Daedalus, a Nuclear Starship