Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A New Starship Enterprise to Explore Space!

          by Sarah Ansari-Manea

Space: the final frontier! These are the voyages of the IXS Enterprise, the latest starship concept design with warp drive capabilities.

IXS Enterprise. Graphic c/o Harold White.

NASA physicist, Dr. Harold White, has been working to make his Star Trek dreams of interstellar travel a reality and has been trying to push humanity closer to faster-than-light travel.

Dr. White, head of NASA’s Advanced Propulsion Team, started his faster-than-light work in 2010, and announced it publicly last fall. But according to the June 12th, 2014 CNN article "What an Enterprise! NASA physicist, artist unveil warp-speed craft design," it wasn't until he joined forces with artist Mark Rademaker, that his inner sci-fi lover was awoken and excited.

Dr. Harold White. Photo c/o Wikipedia.
Rademaker spent more than 1,600 hours perfecting the designs, and is still not quite finished, as he plans to repaint and add texture to the designs. The full collection can be viewed in his online flickr album.

In the June 10th io9 article "Here's NASA's New Design for a Warp Drive Ship," White explained that his design would not defy any laws of physics; “Remember, nothing locally exceeds the speed of light, but space can expand and contract at any speed…“Perhaps a ‘Star Trek’ experience within our lifetime is not such a remote possibility.

Theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre first proposed the idea for a warp drive, basing it on a solution of Einstein's field equations in general relativity. In short, the Alcubierre warp drive would stretch spacetime in a wave, which causes the fabric of space ahead of the spacecraft to contract and the space behind it to expand. The ship would ride the wave to accelerate to incredible speeds.

Adding onto the efforts of Alcubierre, White’s design allows for the creation of a warp bubble, through the addition of the two enormous rings surrounding the spacecraft. The space at the front of the ship compresses, while the space behind expands, re-positioning the ship without it actually moving, or breaking any physical laws.

However, White is not the only person to have designed a convincing and feasible spacecraft. The Atomic Rockets of the Space Patrol website has a database of amazing and realistic spacecraft concepts. The ships are all planned out with exploration of the galaxy as their primary focus, and are meant be scientifically accurate. Crew modules, habitation modules, various shields, batteries and propulsion methods are discussed in full detail, and the movements as well as accelerations are all apparently pre-calculated.

There is much praise for the ISV Venture Star from the James Cameron movie Avatar, and the owners of the webpage claim that it is the most scientifically accurate space ship seen in a movie. The ship’s engines are on the front, towing the rest of it behind, and following a concept created by Charles Pellegrino and physicist Jim Powell. Their innovative antimatter powered starship design, called a Valkyrie, was seen in Cameron’s movie, where Dr. Pellegrino was a scientific consultant.

Sarah Ansari-Manea.
These beautiful and scientifically accurate designs are promising and exciting, though out of our reach for now, and will remain as nothing more than concepts for many years to come. But it is inspiration for the next generation of space travelers, and will hopefully will be the push they need to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Sarah Ansari-Manea is an aspiring astrophysicist, currently completing a specialist in physics and astronomy at the University of Toronto.


  1. Excellent post, Sarah!

    Obviously, a transformative new model of physics will be needed to make these dreams a reality. In light of that, I'd like to make a special plea for devoting some attention to philosophy of science during your studies at UT, especially as they bear on Kuhnian revolutions in science. Much has been learned about the kinds of revolutions that it is hoped, for example, the Large Hadron Collider will bring about.

    What these philosophers and historians have discovered should guide management and administration to provide what geniuses in your field need to be maximally brilliant. An opinion piece on this is posted at http://www.icarusinterstellar.org/research-reduction-and-reaching-for-the-stars/

    1. Thank you Mr. Field,

      Instinctively I understood that scientific evolution did not follow a linear path, yet it wasn't until a 2nd-year course that I understood the necessary existence of Kuhnian revolutions to rationalize our current scientific knowledge state. And while single-handed, brilliant efforts (like Copernicus's) are still possible, it's likely that well-funded, co-ordinated efforts (such as the LHC) will be the type of projects that would yield the necessary paradigm-shift required for interstellar travel.

      However, I'm conflicted by the funding formula for such large projects which is currently based on the assumption that the justification for large investments is fundamentally the need for a completely new theory, while I fully agree with your statement that reduction (such as micro-reduction, Unity of Science - Putman & Oppenheim, 1958) would be at least equally successful and a whole lot cheaper, in these days of continually reducing science budgets.

      It's one of the reason I got involved with the Planetary Society, as a means to help continue the educational need required to help secure public support for funding sciences. I believe that science should be viewed as a societal undertaking with each member of the society contributing according to his own capabilities, to the continuum of knowledge needed by our race.

      Your own efforts on the Vlog and presentations (loved the 100 years Starship!) help greatly in ensuring a greater understanding of science and helps current and future generations of administrators secure the necessary funding for our own well being and species survival.

      Maybe reaching for the stars, the process itself, the journey not the destination is the existential micro-reduction version of "why are we here?"!



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