Sketches of a manned starship

Stephen Ashworth, Oxford, UK

E-mail <sa (at) astronist.demon.co.uk>

Launched 21 May 2010

Conceptual sketch of a Wayland Mk I starship leaving the Solar System

Introduction to Wayland

Wayland is a set of design sketches for a manned starship.

These unofficial notes have been produced in parallel with the Icarus project, itself an updating of the Daedalus project of the 1970s. Daedalus produced a detailed design for a robotic probe which might be launched to a nearby star (Barnard’s Star was chosen) within a couple of centuries, while Icarus has its sights on a departure by the end of the 21st century.

Inspired by the launch of the Icarus project, but even more irritated by James Cameron’s infuriating new movie Avatar (see review of Avatar here), I found myself compelled to set down some sketches of a starship design of my own. Wayland looks ahead to ask whether, when and how human beings might voyage to the stars in person. While speculative, Wayland shall still remain physically plausible.

The name “Wayland” has been chosen since a character of this name was the Anglo-Saxon equivalent to the Daedalus of ancient Greek mythology.

The top-level design guidelines for the Wayland starship are as follows:

The resulting design for Wayland carries 100 people, and has a mass of about 178,000 tonnes at Solar System departure. It is propelled by 1254 tonnes of antimatter (probably antihydrogen ice), which energises about 100 times that mass of liquid hydrogen for acceleration and deceleration. With a cruising speed of 0.1c, it should reach Alpha Centauri in about 46 years flight time. Its first journey is likely to be undertaken in the period AD 2500 to 3000.

Obviously, this is all extremely speculative and sketchy compared with the vastly more detailed and professional collaborative work that has gone into Daedalus and is now being focused on Icarus. Yet I hope that some of the thoughts I have put into Wayland may possess some lasting interest. In particular, I have tried to correct what I see as a fundamental misconception about the focus on finding earthlike or marslike exoplanets for future human habitation, which is expressed in the recent DVD “How To Colonise The Stars”.

Many scientists and engineers continue to believe that the voyage of a manned starship, bringing our own descendants into direct physical contact with extrasolar planets and ultimately extrasolar alien life, is too difficult a project ever to bring to fruition.

The numbers suggest otherwise. Although a manned starship is certainly way beyond our current abilities, so long as technological progress and economic and population growth remain possible then a point can be reached when the capabilities of civilisation match the challenge. The question becomes one of asking how much growth and progress is the precondition for a starship of a given speed and size.

Since the future expansion of civilisation inevitably entails our occupation of the Solar System, growth on the interplanetary frontier will prepare us in many different but complementary ways to eventually face the interstellar frontier.

Click here for the full report in PDF format.

Extrasolar landfall

Last revised 22 May 2010 / 41st Apollo Anniversary Year