If human beings are to expand their existence beyond the Solar System, a spacecraft must be built to navigate through interstellar space. In order to address the complex array of issues involved in such a feat, an interdisciplinary, intercultural, and international (3i) approach is necessary.
A team of graduate students at the International Space University came together throughout 2014-2015 to tackle this issue. The resulting report outlines the framework and provides a roadmap to achieve interstellar travel in the near future with an approach that is technologically feasible, financially astute, and culturally desirable.
The report addresses interstellar travel using a slower-than-light, self-sustaining worldship to carry humans over many generations to other star systems and, in particular, the preparations needed to launch such a ship in a nominal 100-year timeframe. Current or near-current technologies are leveraged in new and creative ways and where technologies do not exist, a critical path to development has been identified.
Drawing on information from past studies of interstellar missions, a preferred concept for a worldship is identified. This allows key technologies to be selected and considers the feasibility of their advancement in time for a launch in the next century. Strategies are outlined for the necessary development and follow a logical progression of enabling missions and projects.
The interdisciplinary, intercultural, and international approach taken considers both the technological and societal challenges leading up to the launch of a worldship, as well as the challenges associated with operating a worldship over hundreds to thousands of years. Preliminary mission plans take into account the conditions for enabling the construction of a worldship including political considerations, cultural changes, financing, and international collaboration in the form of an Interstellar City.
Other major topics include on-board infrastructures such as living spaces, biomes, transportation systems, a life support system, and the required medical and scientific facilities. Operational concepts are also examined, such as shielding from radiation and collisions, on-board manufacturing and recycling, redundancy in systems, and research and development. The paper also considers necessary ship subsystems including power, propulsion, communication, and navigation systems.
Finally, issues concerning the society and ethics on-board are examined, with topics relating to life on the worldship, governance and education models, and worldship economy and culture. The methods and timeline required to complete this research are then incorporated into a roadmap. This roadmap addresses issues leading up to the launch of the worldship.
Future research needs are identified for both technical and non-technical challenges. The end result is an interdisciplinary roadmap for the launch of a slower-than-light, multi-generational worldship for interstellar travel.