I4is Science Fiction Book Club – Next meeting 9th November
For the next meeting, the i4is SF Book Club members are considering again ‘The Road to Science Fiction Volume 3: From Heinlein to Here’ edited by James Gunn, a collection of selected short stories from the ‘Heinlein to Here’ era. We will be reading and discussing stories 14 (The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin) and 15 (The Game of Rat and Dragon by Cordwainer Smith) but also open for more discussion/debate.
The meeting will be on Zoom, Thursday 9th November at 1900 UK time. Mark the date in your calendar! To join the club, please email email@example.com for the meeting link.
I4is Science Fiction Anthology
You will have seen from earlier Newsletters that we are still looking for short stories for the upcoming “The i4is Science Fiction Anthology.” To ensure a level playing field, submissions must be in Shunn’s Modern Manuscript format, the widespread standard for fiction submissions. https://www.shunn.net/format/story/ (Make sure you click the Modern tab.) Further information is available – or just send submissions as email attachments – to the editors firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
I4is Education Team Meeting – Next meeting 21st November
The i4is education team meets every month and the team is responsible for overseeing all the aspects of the educational work undertaken by i4is. If you would like to get involved and help progress the mission of i4is contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the location of the members, the meetings are usually held online.
As examples of our educational activities, you can read in Principium 43 (free quarterly – register through the i4is website) how we delivered the i4is Skateboards to Starships summer workshops to the Royal Institution in London for the 4th time. Earlier in June we delivered the i4is Interstellar Challenge at the University of Lincoln, UK for the first time and have been invited to do so again later this year. In 2022 and 2021 we delivered the one-week full-time course Human Exploration of the Far Solar System and On to the Stars for the Limitless Space Institute, Houston, Texas which is now a service we could offer to any University or organization.
A Lightsail Precursor Mission to Enceladus and Europa
I4is’s very own Adam Hibberd and Andreas Hein published a paper on preprint server ResearchGate on September 24th, 2023 titled “A Light Sail Astrobiology Precursor Mission to Enceladus and Europa.” Considering that icy moons with subsurface oceans of liquid water rank among the most promising astrobiological targets in our Solar System, this paper assesses the feasibility of deploying laser sail technology in lieu of conventional chemical propulsion to instantiate precursor life-detection missions. It focuses specifically on laser sail missions to Enceladus and Europa, as these two moons emit plumes that seem accessible to in situ sampling.
The paper finds that GigaWatt laser technology could accelerate a 100 kg probe to a speed of ∼ 30 km s−1, thereupon reaching Europa on timescales of 1-4 years and Enceladus with flight times of 3-6 years. It includes thorough orbital mechanics calculations and simulations to model a laser sail encounter with one of these moons. The paper also discusses various tradeoffs that would have to be made in such a mission, such as probe speed vs data quality. Additionally, it discusses the ideal locations for the laser source for Europa and Enceladus – somewhere near India or Pakistan and somewhere in the Antarctic respectively. The paper concludes with a discussion of mission cost and feasibility, as well as the potential biosignatures that may be detected. The full paper can be found here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/374153715_A_Light_Sail_Astrobiology_Precursor_Mission_to_Enceladus_and_Europa
Magnetic Fusion Plasma Drive
On September 20th, 2023, Cornell’s preprint server ARXIV published a paper by Florian Neukart titled “Magnetic Fusion Plasma Drive.” The paper introduces and thoroughly investigates the Magnetic Fusion Plasma Drive (MFPD) propulsion system, a novel fusion-powered propulsion mechanism. MFPD seeks to harness the immense energy potential of nuclear fusion combined with magnetically confined plasma to produce thrust. The MFPD aims to address the limitations of current propulsion systems by providing a balance between thrust and efficiency, all while ensuring scalability for larger spacecraft.
The paper first compares MPFD to various other propulsion technologies, such as light sails and ion engines, noting their advantages and limitations and how MFPD compares. These comparative analyses indicate significant advantages of the MFPD system over existing technologies, particularly in fuel efficiency, thrust capabilities, and potential scalability. The paper then explains the theoretical basis for MFPD, including a discussion on plasma dynamics and magnetic confinement. It derives the core mathematical relationships governing the MFPD system, ranging from the foundational equations of fusion reactions and plasma thrust to the intricate interplay of magnetic fields and plasma confinement. The paper contains a section of theoretical calculations for a short hypothetical mission to Mars and ends with a discussion of various design considerations and technical challenges of the MFPD system. The full article can be found here: https://arxiv.org/abs/2309.11524
Reinforcing Light Sail Nanocraft
On October 13, 2023, an article titled “Active Metasurfaces for Non-Rigid Light Sail Interstellar Optical Communication” by Hossein Mosallaei et al was published in the Wiley Online Preprint library. Over the past few years, nanosatellite research has exploded, leading to a greater interest in the possibility of light sail nanoprobes. A swarm of these probes could be sent to Proxima Centauri, each with different capabilities, to study the system. However, according to this paper, the non-rigidity of the nanoprobe platform and the intense imparted optical force from the terrestrial laser source would likely lead to deformations during the propulsion stage. These deformations could potentially hurt communication performance. Alterations in the shape of the sail body result in varying angles of incidence and polarization components observed by the photonic unit cell, significantly impacting their intended performance.
Based on this premise, the paper proposes utilizing a reflective all-dielectric, low-power active metasurface that dynamically compensates for the effects of deformation and facilitates beam-steering for communication purposes among different lightsails in interstellar space. The rest of the paper discusses the various characteristics of this metasurface and data on its performance in simulations of various different nanocraft designs. The full paper can be found here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/adts.202300359
A Laser-Fusion Propulsion System
On October 18th, 2023, Japanese research journal J-SPACE published a paper titled “Investigation of Energy-Scaling of Thrust Performance for Laser Fusion Rocket” by Taiki Inatomi et al. The laser fusion rocket (LFR) works by ionizing and energizing a propellant by inertial-confinement fusion (ICF), and the high-energy plasma is controlled by a magnetic nozzle formed by a superconducting coil. As a result, the rocket obtains a thrust as a reaction force. The paper provides a deeper overview of this technology, explaining the governing equations and previous research done on it.
However, most experiments have been performed with an energy of less than 10 J, and it remains unclear how thrust performance varies on the plasma energy as the energy is scaled from a few joules to the tens of megajoules required for interstellar travel. The paper seeks to answer this question by developing and utilizing a simulation to test laser-fusion propulsion systems. The paper concludes that LFR is a feasible option for interstellar travel but notes that much more development is needed for it to be actualized. The full paper can be found here: https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/pfr/18/0/18_1404080/_pdf/-char/ja
On October 17th, 2023, the scientific journal Ascend published a paper by Mark Pickrell titled “Quantification of Electron/Positron Pairs for Matter/Anti-Matter Propulsion -- Recent Experimental Results.” Although currently largely theoretical, matter/antimatter propulsion would be able to achieve incredibly high speeds, allowing for interstellar travel and missions to nearby stars that only take 10 to 20 years.
The paper provides an overview of antimatter propulsion and how it works, discussing the Compton effect and Bette-Heitler process. It calculates the theoretical potential of a probe propelled by antimatter and examines various design considerations. The paper then covers experiments that quantify the production of electron/positron pairs when high-energy lasers strike high atomic mass targets. The results of these experiments are promising for space propulsion, and the paper outlines various follow-up experiments to further investigate and quantify antimatter propulsion. A preprint of the paper can be found here: file:///C:/Users/14252/Downloads/230917PickrellAIAAASCENDPaper-1.pdf.