Project Icarus (interstellar)

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Project Icarus is a theoretical engineering design study aimed at designing a credible, mainly nuclear fusion-based, unmanned interstellar space probe.[1] Project Icarus was an initiative of members of the British Interplanetary Society and the Tau Zero Foundation (TZF) started in 2009. It is now managed by the members as a separate division of the umbrella organization of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization Icarus Interstellar. It was motivated by the British Interplanetary Society's Project Daedalus, a similar study that was conducted between 1973 and 1978.[2]

The project is planned to take around five years and began formally on September 30, 2009.[3] An international team of scientists and engineers has been assembled. The Icarus Interstallar project web site lists the team.[4]


Project Icarus was founded, mainly, by Kelvin Long and Richard Obousy. The project was first announced at a conference at the United Kingdom Space Conference, held at Charterhouse, Surrey on 4 April 2009, when Kelvin Long had organized the first interstellar session. 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 included presentations from future team members Richard Osborne, Martyn Fogg and Andreas Tziolas. Other future team members in the audience that day included Pat Galea and Rob Swinney. The genesis of the project is described in the original paper[5] as well as a history paper.[6] In an interview Tziolas stated that the project name was chosen due to a hint from Daedalus project leader Allen Bond and as a result of a reshaped mythos in which Icarus lands on an island and plans to forge steel wings to replace his father's wax wings.[7]

Project Icarus was formed as an initiative to re-energize the interstellar community. Tziolas had observed that many of the Daedalus team and other design-capable researchers had either retired or died and "a new generation of interstellar engineers was needed."[7] 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:[8]

  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 describes what is to be accomplished by the design study:[9]

  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., similar to Daedalus).
  6. The spacecraft mission must be designed so as to allow some deceleration for increased encounter time at the destination.

Project Icarus focuses on the technology challenges of interstellar travel.[7] "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] These goals are to be achieved by technical reports on engineering layout, functionality, physics, operation and other aspects of such an interstellar ship.[7]

While Daedalus had relied on helium-3 propulsion depending on mining Neptune or Jupiter to produce sufficient helium-3; several other fuel sources and fusion types have been researched.[7]

Members of the Project Icarus study group went on to form a 501(c)(3) nonprofit 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.[10]

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
  • Dr. Andreas Tziolas, former NASA research fellow at NASA who is the project leader

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. ^
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Andersen, Ross (23 Feb 2012). "Project Icarus: Laying the Plans for Interstellar Travel". The Atlantic (Atlantic Monthly Group). Retrieved 24 July 2014. 
  8. ^ "Project Icarus". Icarus Interstellar. Retrieved 30 November 2014. 
  9. ^ Obousy, Richard (2012). "Project Icarus: A 21st Century Interstellar Starship Study" (PDF). Icarus Interstellar. Retrieved 30 November 2014. 
  10. ^

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