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DARPA funds 100 Year Starship to develop human interstellar flight capabilities


May 24, 2012

100YSS will attempt to develop the capabilities needed for human interstellar flight in the next century to take us to other stars (
Image: Shutterstock)

100YSS will attempt to develop the capabilities needed for human interstellar flight in the next century to take us to other stars ( Image: Shutterstock)

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Voyager 1, which is now in the outermost layer of the heliosphere that forms the boundary between the Solar System and interstellar space, is set to be the first man-made object to leave the Solar System. It has taken the car-sized probe over 35 years to reach its current point, but at its current speed of about 3.6 AU (334,640,905 miles) per year it would take over 75,000 years to reach our nearest star, Proxima Centauri. Despite the mind-boggling distances involved, DARPA has just awarded funding to form an organization whose aim is to make human interstellar travel a reality within the next century.

DARPA awarded US$500,000 in seed funding to the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence to form 100 Year Starship (100YSS), an independent, non-governmental initiative that will call on experts from a variety of fields (artists and entertainers will get a say alongside scientists, engineers and others) to develop the capabilities for human interstellar flight “as soon as possible, and definitely within the next 100 years.”

“Yes, it can be done. Our current technology arc is sufficient,” said Dr. Mae Jamison, a former NASA astronaut, creator of the winning 100YSS proposal and leader of the new organization. “100 Year Starship is about building the tools we need to travel to another star system in the next 100 years.”

The first year of the ambitious project will involve searching for investors, establishing membership opportunities, encouraging public participation in research projects, and developing the visions for interstellar exploration.

A public symposium will also be held in Houston, Texas, from September 13 to 16, 2012, in what will be an annual event “open to scientific papers, engineering challenges, philosophical and socio-cultural considerations, economic incentives, application of space technologies to improve life on Earth, imaginative exploration of the stumbling blocks and opportunities to the stars, and broad public involvement.”

The 100YSS initiative will also see the establishment of a scientific research institute called “The Way” that will focus on speculative, long-term science and technology.

“We’re embarking on a journey across time and space,” says Dr. Jemison. “If my language is dramatic, it is because the project is monumental. This is global aspiration. And each step of the way, its progress will benefit life on Earth. Our team is both invigorated and sobered by the confidence DARPA has in us to start an independent, private initiative to help make interstellar travel a reality.”

Source: 100YSS via Popular Science

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

This subject was covered recently on the science channel. The end consensus was that the only thing holding it all back is feasibility. The amount invested into such a project will never have a return for those investing. Of course, there will be some technology researched and developed in the process that will benefit in some way, but the end product is a one way trip measured over the course of one lifetime.

As to the craft design. It will have to be highly compartmentalized , interconnected at several points and large enough to sustain several groups of people. It will have to be designed to either spin as a whole craft or have special areas that spin to help prevent what medical condition occur due to zero G. I suggest the entire craft. less moving parts.

It will have to have any and all gear needed to mine, refine and create materials from interstellar objects such as asteroids.

Pat Burneson

I knew what I was about to read in detail just from reading the title. It's creative accounting. If they can't have a real plan within the next two weeks, I'm calling fake on this one. And even though I like the idea, I disagree with tax payer's money getting involved. I'm that stupid and DARPA knows this. Even they must be trolled once in a while.

Nitrozzy Seven

We are hundreds of years out from doing this. Maybe one day if we stop killing each other every country will help in this project. Until then it is just talk.


Perhaps the best thing to so would be to snag a small asteroid, excavate chambers and corridors inside it, fit it with all the mechanisms and life support that any other spacecraft would require, then send it on its way. Aesthetics should be the least of our concerns.

Chuck Anziulewicz

We'll have to get to work on a space elevator before we could possibly build an interstellar ship, but I believe both are entirely doable!

Ken Romero

This opens the door to thinking outside the "sphere." Who knows what we might find between the stars within the next 100 years. Perhaps we will develop the technology to create a space station in the Oort Cloud and that will be the next step; to go there and build it. Perhaps we will discover something between our solar system and another that will be the next step after that. The point is, we've started. We've created a dream, a vision.

Chuck Franke

It does not sound like DARPAs Mandate but it is better than blowing the money paying people to be poor and there is the spin off technology. ...........................................................................................................

re; Pat Burneson

Constant acceleration could provide "gravity" for the crew as well but I suspect that the trusts will be too low for that. ............................................................................................................

re; Nitrozzy Seven

Did you even read the article? It is not until the middle of September until their first screwy idea symposium.

Assuming an earth type destination and a star ship with less than one G acceleration. what kind of landers do you use? Do you hope to find a dry lake bed like Rogers Lake at Edwards AFB or maybe a frozen lake instead for landers like the space shuttle? Or perhaps shuttles designed to land on water? Ballistic with parachutes and hope you can gather everybody back together? Have the star ship turn into an orbital tower? Blimps?


I suggest a colaborative site be set up so as to receive info and help from all over the world to solve all issues that arrise.

From grown ups to school kids, all should be able to contribute to resolve issues.

Such as that collaborative site where people fold atomic structures to come up with inovative strands of chemicals that help cure diseases and so on.

So for example - say we need a formula to work out some kind of physics problem, like teletransportation or something. The site can have all the currently available stuff on there and in various formats, either written down or in graphic format. This way anyone on earth can work to solve snags.

The same could work for all other issues.

Usually things get discovered where you least expect and genius isn't taught in school.

Some people have incredible spatial capabilities and are able to picture solutions to problems without knowing how they did it. So if a problem were to be shown in some kind of spatial form just like in that atom folding site I am almost sure all things can be solved.


A space elevator is not that practical actually. It's not a matter of engineering. It is just a really BIG target for some nut bag to blow up. And should that happen, think about the outcome. The cable alone would be made of diamond and wrap 3-4 times around the world. That'll make the dinosaur killing asteroid look like a peble in a pond. A sling shot or rail gun makes more sense. As for this, no direct return on investment, but in developing the tech, we start mining the asteroids and reaping unknown benifits. Absolutely go for it.


The picture of interstellar space that is slowly emerging definitely works in our favor for interstellar travel. That is, interstellar space may have many planet-sized objects in it.

That could make interstellar travel a series of manageable hops, rather than a single very long voyage.

Once you are at the outer edge of the solar system, you might already be halfway to the next stopping point.

Jon A.

Couldn't the "Build the Enterprise" site and DARPA get together? While an actual Enterprise replica may not be the best design for interstellar transportation, at least there is some thinking about getting into space, even if it is a small step compared to going to another star system.


I am delighted I lived long enough to see this. It is the beginning. I wouldn't be surprised if it came together sooner than some may think. I envy those who will see in in its final stages.

Hats off!


I'm with Chuck Anziulewicz - using an asteroid would be great idea. They could start with a really big one like 433 Eros and continue expanding their habitat during the flight (gives them something to do) plus it would give them enough raw materials to re-cycle and improve their technology - presumably they could still receive transmitted data for several decades(?) so they wouldn't be completely cut off.


Or it could be a ship made of encapsulated ice. Good cosmic ray protection, plenty of water for fuel and oxygen, good collision resistance. Lightweight, Kevlar type prefabricated, engineered “bags” could be filled with ice/water harvested from a comet. Once filled the bags would freeze solid. Spinning disks shape would provide gravity at the outer rim for the living spaces, less gravity nearer the center for heavy storage, etc. Thin profile reduces collision risk.


It looks like DARPA goes too far,too ambitious, out of mind. Suppose they fund a high speed interplanetary ship. No one knows the outcome once Voyager1 gets out of the heliosphere! I said the "Voyager1 will start malfunctioning or structural problems or even [tear off in piece] once here. Before any interstellar craft can be designed and built, the cause and solution must be found.

Tw Tan

I think starship for human interstellar flight with direct fusion propulsion will hardly work because the Lawson criterion(density, confinement time and temperature), most of the unburned helium-3 will be expelled out; it will be a big waste of this precious fuel. I believe a better option is dedicated aneutronic reactor with closed-cycle for recycling the unburned fuels, and indirect propulsion using plasma turbines.


It's a grand idea but do it with crowd sourcing and not my money. DARPA has way too much money. No wonder we're broke.

The Hoff

RE: TW TWAN; The Hoff

Well, I'm pretty sure tax payers said the same thing about the internet. They might spend our tax dollars but, at least we benefit in the long run. Just look at all the things we might not have today. You could Google it now but, just know if it wasn't for Darpa you wouldn't be reading this. Besides who else is going to spend our money.

Terry Tucker

@Ken Romero Hey Ken, we don't necessarily need to wait for the space elevator. Sandia Labs has already looked at a design they think will work. Check out . It is basically a bullet train levitated with new super conducting materials we have available. The train would enter the atmosphere at very high speed, coming out of a vacuum tube at about 5 miles up or so.


The asteroid/comet idea mentioned by several above would not work. Too much mass while at the same time too fragile. Too much energy would be expanded just on pushing dead mass against inertial resistance and of course at high speed making a turn, or stopping... fugetaboutit... the asteroid would shatter to smithereens.

This is a good initiative but interstellar travel will not happen before we unveil the Higgs Boson mystery. Just like modern aviation would be impossible without alloys, electricity, and internal combustion, interstellar travel is still impossible for now. But once we break down the Higgs Boson and learn to manipulate mass the way we can manipulate electromagnetism today then the last barriers will be removed and no sky will be the limit again.

AnOld BlackMarble

we can always build a stargate... all the components can be gotten from the web, with a credit card.

Michiel Mitchell

This seems unrealistic at the moment. We don't even live off the planet yet (on a large scale) and it will take decades of extensive research in space to be prepared to tackle interstellar travel. Then on top of the simple survivability, there's the fact that the nearest star is over 4 light years away, so to make that trip in even 40 years, we'd have to be able to travel at 1/10th the speed of light. That's roughly 55 thousand times the fastest speed we can achieve. Even travelling 100 times our current top speed is pretty much unrealistic given our current technological curve, so we'd have to come up with an entirely new type of device, having NO relation to any existing transportation device known to man.

I love the idea, but achieving that within the next century would be more luck than progress, requiring a quantum (pun intended) leap rather than a normal evolution of technology.

Dave Andrews

It seems like a good first step. Of course, until further developments, I remain sceptical, yet it is a great initiative on DARPA's part. For those of you who are displeased that the agency is spending government money on such projects, well from what I understood they only spent 500 000 to get it started (and for such a grand goal, I believe it is decent) and will be looking for funds elsewhere. Besides, although it may seem like a lot of money, if you put it in perspective with their available budget it isn't much. Also, if a project of that magnitude is to arise, the government obviously must have a say in it. It's a little like NASA's funding in private companies such as SpaceX. Furthermore, before criticizing the project too far, reread the article. The first year will establish the goals and so on. Once the newly formed group has a plan of action, then criticism may be more useful. I also do believe there should be some crowd sourcing involved as Gizmo mentioned and am quite looking forward to the results of that symposium in September. p.s. it IS a project spanning 100 years...if individual groups fund a little each year, it'll probably end up being enough

Patrick Chartier

Of course we could never reach Proxima Centauri with conventional rockets. Warp Drives, perhaps something like the Philadelphia Experiment would IMO be the way forward. This of course would cost a figure as long as a phone number. Who would fund it?

Julian Siuksta

I have posed this question several times without response: Physical travel to planet outside our solar system will require extreme speed at extreme distances right? Possibly multigenerational crews and/or suspended animation. Ok, let's assume fuel could be picked up along the way. HOW WILL COLLISION ADVOIDANCE be possible? At such speed, course correction to avoid every rogue body is just not physically possible. It would seem teleportation would actually have a greater chance of success. If technology is the goal, open a Holiday Inn on the moon and team up with Elon Musk or Burt Rutan to provide transportation. Of course, on the present economic trajectory, the pool of potential customers will grow ever smaller.


re; Burnerjack

Collision avoidance is simply a matter of seeing the other object in time to push it out of the way, or rocket your own vehicle out of the other objects way or a combination of both. Radio waves propagate well in vacuum and there is not any curvature of the earth range limitations either. .............................................................................................................................

Changes to the understanding of the laws of physics rarely happen because somebody thought "that would be nice", usually the harbinger of change is somebody saying "That's weird."


we are going about this the wrong way

a) Until we know how t o get along on our own here and have advances in sustainable economics / sustainable growth and development within our own ecosystem, we are not ready.

once we have solved a, getting many nations to agree and through their focus towards something like this is simple - we all want to reach for the stars, just just do that AFTER we have cleaned our house... for ONCE we have cleaned our house we have a chance to be focused properly, and have better tools to do so, and what we have to give that generation ship - is what they need - not what we "hope will be enough"

Andrew Kubicki

re; Andrew Kubicki

a) If by sustainable economics you mean an economy that does not run through boom and bust cycles, bad news the only way that has ever been done is through continuous bust and suffering under the guns of Jack booted thugs.

It is impossible to know that you have sent enough supplies until the colony is firmly established and producing in excess of need and even then you hope they don't suddenly need something you didn't send whether it's bio-medical expertise or thallium oxide.


Have you not taken a look back 50 years, or 100? breakthroughs in science are being made everyday! They may be microscopic in comparison to an interstellar vehicle, but it takes many pieces to complete a puzzle! we may very well be on the cusp of discovery and not even realize it. Those who say it can not be done are often interrupted by the ones doing it!

Erick Freeman

We already possess the most ideal spaceship imaginable. varied and sustainable environment, capable of supporting a nearly incomprehensible diversity of life. It's called EARTH. All we have to do is arrest our population growth and commit to taking care of it. barring a sizable body intercept or substantial solar event, it should support us in good stead almost indefinitely. We would do well to take care of it as best we can and if we populate our moon as a "backstop" against a catastrophic event which we could return "home" after "the smoke cleared and the dust settled". THAT IS possible in the present era.


re; Burnerjack

Given the choice I would take a starship with a less the 50% chance of survival over staying in a zero growth culture.


Every step forward is laughed at ridiculed and derided as to it's practicality and that can be good to wino the wheat from the chaff. But to try and stop anybody from doing the impossible or improbable is just foolish just look at the last 100 years for goodness sake! From horse and buggy to the friggin moon! What more do you want as proof?

Joseph Mertens

I agree with chuck frank, that it all starts with a dream, a vision and an idea, with input not just from engineers, designers and artists, but literally everyone on earth who can sign up for membership and present their ideas. The 100 year time frame is unrealistic but to start global input fully utilising todays information and communication revolution is truly great. And who knows what ideas can come from any continent in the world. And many people will enthusiastically submit their best. New side technologies will be created, integrative technologies, design and manufacturing, it could also help the world's poor, as nano super conductors can provide almost passive cooling and heating systems and enormous energy. Running hydroponic farms. as whatever the West says or does, it's systems have directly or indirectly helped in providing better standards for its people, welfare systems and provided a vision for other people to aspire to. The US also now knows that being a world power is a zero sum game and everyone can benefit.

Dawar Saify

Lots of good comments. But the article is short on details. -What propulsion are they looking to use? How much fuel would it use to get to a planet that is possibly habitable? -Considering cost per pound, what will it cost to lift all thew pieces off planet? -How will they deal with Radiation? Magnetic shielding? -How will they stop the people from killing each other in such confined spaces? :) In some respects I think this effort is too soon. Give it another hundred years.....

Let me be the spoiler ..... I think for what it appears today human will travel great distances using a large ship where the psychologically trained astronaut/peoplenaut will journey knowing it is there great great ...... great grand kids who will reach the destination and explore new World. People starting of will have to resign and accept the fact that they will die part of the way through the journey. Sorry guys/gals the cold hard fact today is there is Warp speed, wormholes with exotic properties etc.


re; Dennis

Those and other questions are what the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence to form 100 Year Starship (100YSS) is being set up to answer. But some are already clear The starships will be built in space out of spaceborne resources and the ship will have to have enough internal space so small town social dynamics take place. The colonists will also have to augment their genetic diversity by bringing frozen genetic samples, probably frozen embryos. ...................................................................................................................

re; anmufti

The expectation of living to arrival depends upon how far and how fast. I am rather confident that a starship that uses near light speed particles as reaction mass and a ram-scoop for braking will make it to destinations within a 30 light year radius well within a human lifetime ship time; especially if by varying the particle's velocity/mass they don't actually have to throw the reaction mass overboard to get thrust. It's not actually reactionless it just appears that way from the outside.

Also people do things solely for the good of their descendants all the time.


Honestly speaking, first we need the technology that can help the ship to go many times ,may b thousand times faster than the speed of light.. Only then we can hope to reach other galaxies in the next few centuries in the future.

Prince Marak

re; Prince Marak

You have to learn to walk before you can run and perhaps the relatively flat-space between the star systems might provide the insight that could lead to FTL ships.


i think we should wait tell we get somewhat near the speed of light before we judge what can be done. because who knows what phenomena may show up at those speeds.


I believe that we must first build a molecular re-arranger before attempting to travel the stars. If we had the ability to take dirt and make whatever we needed, there would be no need for "investments" as there would be absolutely no need for an economy. How do you justify a currency when gold can be made from anything..

Zebulon Doyle

We havent even put a man on mars yet which makes this idea a little far fetched tbh. Unmanned exploratory missions would have to come first so creating the tech to travel faster & further is the next step in space exploration. Once we have the tech developed i would like to see an orbiter & rover reaching the Gliese system (of habitable planets) before i die. Considering the horse & cart to the moon analogy i.e. 100 years. Then reaching another system might just happen in the next 50. But we have to want to go further than our own solar sytem first. If someone were to create a prize or goal like 1billion $ for the first craft to achieve 0.1 light speed then that would inspire development in the right direction.

Anthony Collett

I read with interest the article relating to intersteler and interplaitry flight project. before we even concider the design of such a craft we need to develop an alternitive to rocket type propulsion systems once this problem is cracked the actuel design of such a craft will be fairly straitforward. we know from recent research that the posibility of Faster than Light traval is a none starter so we need an alternitive way of covering these emense distancies so perhaps time traval may be the only way forward as many scientist beleve this is possible and there is some reserch n this area.

De G7dme


Many people posting here are forgetting that technology progresses at a really fast rate. Many think it doubles every 18 months. This means that 100 years times 12 months equals 66 and 2/3s times doubling. That means tech will be 1,17129523795e 20 times better. You still think it is not possible? 117,129,523,795,000,000,000 is one hell of a big number.

I am sure that there are people that think this rate of doubling will not hold up for 100 years but it has already held up for over 50 years. My grandmother was born is 1914. Think about that! One hundred years ago they did not even have running water and electricity. No planes, cars, radios, TVs, cell phones, computers or even most of the foods that we buy in the store these days. Sure some of these things were known but they were not common yet.

Douglas Knapp
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