Triple Whammy at 100YSS
by Pat Galea
When the call for papers for the 100 Year Starship Symposium was first announced, I thought “I have a few ideas. I’ll submit them all and see what gets picked up.” In the end, I submitted three abstracts: one of my own, one as co-author with Greg Matloff (New York City College of Technology), and one on behalf of Adam Crowl (Icarus Interstellar). To my surprise, they were all accepted!
My own paper was on the topic of using dropped relays along the flight path from Earth to the destination star as a way of enhancing communication performance. Each of the relays would talk to the next relay in the chain, all the way back to Earth, so the distance of any one link would not be anywhere near as great as the length of the entire link. We have considered using expended fuel tanks as relays, because the curved dome of the tank could potentially be used as an antenna. Unfortunately, when the calculations are made, it turns out that relays are not actually as helpful as might be supposed. However, there is still potential for using them for scientific purposes, such as measuring the properties of interstellar space. (I’ve written about the interstellar communications problem in this Discovery News article.)
The paper I wrote with Greg Matloff looked at the opposite end of the scale to Project Daedalus. Whereas Daedalus is a huge skyscraper of a craft, Greg and I considered the potential for low mass sail probes pushed by laser beams. Rather than having bulky hardware, these probes would have a layer of nanotechnology ‘painted’ on one side of the sail. This nanotech would be the payload, gathering all the sensor data. I hasten to add that Greg and I have not solved the nanotech problems; we were concerned primarily with working out what the numbers would look like for such a probe (such as power required, sail size, mass etc.).
The final paper was written by Adam Crowl, and looked at the relative performance of performing deceleration using a magnetic sail versus a two-stage fusion rocket. This is most definitely not my area of expertise, so Adam had to give me a crash course before I presented the paper.
There were several highlights of the symposium for me. Seeing our Icarus students Divya Shankar and Tiffany Frierson presenting their papers was a joy. The paper that Divya presented on communications was familiar to me, as that’s my segment of the program, but I didn’t know so much about her work on Project Longshot II, so it was very interesting to find out what was going on there. Tiffany gave a very interesting talk on quantum wormholes, which I really want to understand in more detail. I hadn’t realized quite how clever this work was until I saw the presentation.
It was also good to see Pat Talbot present a fascinating paper on the use of machine learning systems in starships. He said at the start of his talk that my presentation at the 2011 100YSS conference in Orlando had inspired him, but to be fair Pat went much deeper into the topic than I had, drawing upon his extensive experience in the field.
Sonny White’s talk on warp fields was amazing, and it was incredible to see how quickly the story got picked up in the mainstream media. It felt like one of those moments that we might look back upon in decades to come, and say “I was there.”
I also met a number of people who want to join Icarus Interstellar in some capacity. This is such an exciting field to work in, and it’s a privilege to be able to share that excitement with other people.
Oh, and I also got a chance to ride a skateboard for the first time in twelve years. This is one of the Icarus Interstellar skateboards that Bill Cress and Hailey Bright have created.