Project Icarus (Interstellar Probe Design Study)

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Project Icarus is a theoretical design study aimed at designing a credible, mainly nuclear fusion-based unmanned interstellar space-probe.[1] It started out as an initiative of members of The British Interplanetary Society-- and the Tau Zero Foundation (TZF), but is now managed by the same people under the umbrella of the non-profit organization Icarus interstellar. It was motivated by the BIS Project Daedalus, a similar study that was conducted between 1973 and 1978 by the BIS.[2]

The project is planned to take around five years and began on September 30, 2009.[3] An international team of dozens of scientists and engineers has been assembled. The project web site reveals the evolving team: Project Icarus.


Project Icarus was founded mainly by Kelvin Long and Richard Obousy. The project was first announced at a conference at the UK Space Conference, held at Charterhouse, Surrey, UK on 4 April 2009 when Kelvin Long had organized the first interstellar session there. He then approached Richard Obousy about helping to set up the project. A symposium was organized by Kelvin Long and Ian Crawford at the British Interplanetary Society to review "Daedalus after 30 years". As well as presentations from Long, Obousy and Crawford, it also included presentations from future team members Richard Osborne, Martyn Fogg and Andreas Tziolas. Other future team members were in the audience that day including Pat Galea and Rob Swinney. The genesis of the project is described in the original paper[4] as well as a history paper.[5]

Project Icarus was mainly formed as an initiative to re-energize the interstellar community, where it had been observed that many of the 'design capable' people had either retired or died. With this in mind Project Icarus is mainly a 'designer capability exercise'. The choice of mainly fusion fuel did not necessarily indicate the team were advocates of fusion propulsion, but was merely a vehicle for providing for a design study, within design constraints. The purpose behind Project Icarus has been defined to be:[citation needed]

  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 team set out to describe the project requirements in the form of a set of Terms of Reference which is what has to be accomplished by the design study:[citation needed]

  1. To design an unmanned probe that is capable of delivering useful scientific data about the target star, associated planetary bodies, solar environment and the interstellar medium.
  2. The spacecraft must use current or near future technology and be designed to be launched as soon as is credibly determined.
  3. The spacecraft must reach its stellar destination within as fast a time as possible, not exceeding a century and ideally much sooner.
  4. The spacecraft must be designed to allow for a variety of target stars.
  5. The spacecraft propulsion must be mainly fusion based (e.g. Daedalus).
  6. The spacecraft mission must be designed so as to allow some deceleration for increased encounter time at the destination.

"The required milestones should be defined in order to get to a potential launch of such a mission. This should include a credible design, mission profile, key technological development steps and other aspects as considered appropriate".[citation needed]

Members of the Project Icarus Study Group went onto form a non-profit organization called Icarus interstellar which then launched various other projects other than just Project Icarus. Icarus Interstellar has the mission of seeing interstellar flight achieved by the year 2100.

In September 2011 Project Icarus received a mention in the BBC's Sky at Night Programme

Team Members[edit]

The Project Team, a world wide group made up of volunteers who are members of Icarus Interstellar and the British Interplanetary Society, has some notable members such as:

  • Dr Stephen Baxter the renowned Science fiction author who is one of the designers
  • Dr Vint Cerf the American internet pioneer who is one of the Project Consultants

For extra information[edit]

  • This article in The Atlantic has more information and an interview with Andreas Tziolas (a team member in this Project).
  • For updates and information about this project, see the Icarus Interstellar website.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ K.F. Long & R.K. Obousy 12th May 2010—Project Icarus: project programme document (PPD)–overview project plan covering period 2009–2014 pdf Retrieved 2012-01-25
  2. ^ Leonard David, "Futuristic interstellar space probe idea revisited", MSNBC, May 9, 2010.
  3. ^ Stephen Ashworth FBIS, "Project Icarus—Son of Daedalus", Spaceflight, 454–455 (December 2009).
  4. ^ Long, K. F.; Fogg. M.; Obousy, R. K.; Tziolas, A.; Mann, A.; Osborne, R.; Presby, A. (2009). "Project Icarus: Son of Daedalus—Flying Closer to Another Star". Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 62 (11/12): 403–414. ISSN 0007-084X. 
  5. ^ Long, K. F.; Fogg. M.; Obousy, R. K.; Tziolas, A. (2011). "Technical Note—Project Icarus: The Origins and Aims of the Study". Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 64 (3): 88–91. ISSN 0007-084X. 

External links[edit]