Despite practically every sci-fi movie you’ve ever seen, getting to the stars ain’t as easy as it looks. It’ll require unforeseen breakthroughs and radical innovations that are decades if not centuries away. Still, we clever little humans have a few plans on the drawing board. Here are some of the most exciting. Without further ado lets dive into starships of the future.

Starships of the future

Nuclear Fusion Rocket

Project Daedalus was a 5-year research program by the British Interplanetary Society to design a realistically achievable interstellar vessel. A 54,000-ton nuclear fusion rocket capable of propelling a 400-ton robotic probe to around 12% of the speed of light. Requires 30,000 tons of Helium-3 to be mined from the atmospheres of the Outer Planets.

nuclear fusion
Nuclear Pulse

Nuclear Pulse Rocket

Elaborating on the concept of the Project Orion nuclear pulse rock. In which small nuclear bombs are ejected from the craft and exploded, accelerating it to high speeds. The Enzmann Starship envisions using this method to reach the near stars. Nuclear pulse rocket can transport up to 200 colonists to Proxima b within a span of decades. is essentially a giant (and very costly), 800-m (2,600-ft) long interstellar world ship.

Nuclear Pulse Rocket
Laser-Driven Lightsail

Laser-Driven Lightsail

Tacking on the currents of light like the clipper ships of old, Lightsails will be accelerated to relativistic speeds by powerful lasers based in the Solar System. The “StarShip,” tiny interstellar probes envisioned for use in Miner and Hawking’s Breakthrough Starshot project, would employ Laser-Driven Lightsails. Requires little in the way of truly revolutionary technology; could achieve velocities of 20% the speed of light or higher.

Laser-Driven Lightsail
Laser-Driven Lightsail

Bussard Ramjet

This innovative concept, designed by physicist Robert Bussard in 1960, combines the high thrust of fusion rockets with the low fuel requirements of Lightsails. Rather than carrying the fuel for its fusion engines, the ramjet would create a vast, funnel-shaped magnetic field to suck up hydrogen from space. Low mass-ratio means more room for crew and equipment. Constant acceleration could attain extreme relativistic speeds and time dilation.

Bussard Ramjet
Bussard Ramjet

Antimatter Pion Rocket

Antimatter has a tremendous energy density, and the annihilation reaction with “normal” matter would produce a powerful means of propulsion. Harnessing the antimatter reaction is complex: the collision of protons and antiprotons produces charged, short-lived quark-pairs called “pions,” which can be magnetically funneled as rocket exhaust. High thrust could achieve velocities of a significant fraction of the speed of light – reaching the Copernicus System (55 Cancri) in 130 years. Numerous: such a vessel would mass in the millions of tons and be thousands of kilometers long and that’s saying nothing of the extraordinary difficulty of creating and storing antimatter.

Antimatter Pion Rocket
Antimatter Pion Rocket

Slow Boats

These are the forgotten stepchildren of starship technology – vessels designed to enable humans to withstand long distance, deep space travel. SOme “Slow Boat” concepts:

  • Sleeper Ships – a human crew is kept in a state of “deep sleep” or “suspended animation” for the duration of the journey.
  • Embryo Ships – a rather dystopian concept, in which cryogenically frozen embryonic humans are “hatched out” upon arrival at their destination, and educated on their mission by the ship’s “mother computer” and instruction robots.
  • World Ships – generation ships or interstellar ark’s are immersed, self-contained space habitats many kilometers long that carry large human populations. Entire generations live and die during the centuries-long voyage: only descendants – the final generation reach the destination.
Slow Boats
Slow Boats

SK Drive

With the “Schwarzchild Kugelblitz” drive, we’re really cooking – albeit with some very exotic ingredients. The SK Drive is essentially a microscopic artificial black hole, whose evaporative “Hawking Radiation” is deflected by a parabolic reflector to produce thrust. Conceivably, an SK Drive starship could accelerate to 10% of the speed of light within 20 days. Requires the creation of a 600,000-metric ton black hole smaller than a proton with a power output of 160 petawatts and a lifespan of 3.5 years. So much IMPOSSIBLE.

 

 

SK Drive
SK Drive

Alcubierre Drive

Now we’re getting serious. All that went before is child’s play. The Alcubierre Drive is an FTL engine proposed by theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre in 1994. It proposes using intense gravitational forces to shrink the physical dimensions of space in front of the spacecraft while expanding the space behind it. Are you serious? It’s the Holy Grail of space travel – a warp drive with potentially unlimited speed. The universe is your oyster. It’s unclear how to create the necessary gravitational field, and some sort of exotic negative energy would be needed. Which probably doesn’t exist.

Alcubierre Drive
Alcubierre Drive

Wormhole

Not exactly a starship per se, wormholes would more or less make them unnecessary – all you need to do is traverse the normal space within the wormhole in an ordinary spaceship. There’s just that little problem of figuring out how to punch a hole through spacetime, inflate it to traversable size, and move the wormhole mouths to where you want to go. Gets you from Point A to Point B in no time – no special starship technology, and no wanky time dilation or other relativistic effects. Requires a magical technology to thread nonexistent exotic negative energy through a submicroscopic quantum foam wormhole, the inflate and stabilize it.

Wormhole

These are the starships of the future, this is are all the current ways to create interstellar travel. If you enjoyed this article about Starships of the Future, be sure to check out StarkFeed science section.