NASA Ames’ Worden reveals DARPA-funded ‘Hundred Year Starship’ program
October 18, 2010 by Amara D. Angelica
Video of Pete Worden and Peter Schwartz. Audio podcast of the full 19-minute conversation also available.
NASA Ames Director Simon “Pete” Worden revealed Saturday that NASA Ames has “just started a project with DARPA called the Hundred Year Starship,” with $1 million funding from DARPA and $100K from NASA.
“You heard it here,” said Worden at “Long Conversation,” a Long Now Foundation event in San Francisco. “We also hope to inveigle some billionaires to form a Hundred Year Starship fund,” Dr. Worden added. “I absolutely will be on board.” (No further details on this are available from NASA at this time.)
“The human space program is now really aimed at settling other worlds,” he explained. “Twenty years ago you had to whisper that in dark bars and get fired.” (Worden was in fact fired by President George W. Bush, he also revealed.)
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New propulsion ideas
Worden also mentioned some nearer-term ideas that NASA is exploring (and that are not necessarily related to the Starship program). One new propulsion concept is electric propulsion, said Worden. “Anybody that watches the [Star Trek] Enterprise, you know you don’t see huge plumes of fire. Within a few years we will see the first true prototype of a spaceship that will take us between worlds.”
Worden said NASA is also funding a new program to develop microwave thermal propulsion for getting to orbit. “The idea is if you can beam power to the spaceship, so you don’t have to carry all the fuel; and then you use that energy from a laser or microwave power to heat a propellant; it gets you a pretty big factor of improvement. I think that’s one way of getting off the world.”
The principal investigator of this program is Dr. Kevin L.G. Parkin, who invented the technology and described it in his PhD thesis. He is assisted by Creon Levit and David Murakami. Caltech grad student Dmitriy Tseliakhovich has also formed a company called Escape Dynamics LLC to commercialize the microwave thermal propulsion project. (Tseliakhovich’s team project at Singularity University this past summer grew out of Parkin’s work.)