An anonymous electrical and systems engineer going only by the moniker BTE-Dan has posted surprisingly detailed plans for a full-scale, functioning Starship Enterprise that he claims could be built in 20 years. Though it may be tempting to scoff at such lofty ambition, the Build the Enterprise website (up all of one week) includes specifications, costs, mission plan and funding strategies, all suggesting that a serious amount of thought has gone into creating a real world counterpart to the icon spaceship of the TV and movie series, Star Trek.
The project appears to be born of Dan's frustration with humankind's present spacefaring efforts. Dan more or less dismisses the International Space Station for its lack of gravity and cramped quarters, describing its toilet facilities as "comical and primitive," and musing how the money may have been better spent. Dan's answer? A full-scale USS Enterprise similar in form, dissimilar in function to that of the TV and movie series; that would operate as "a spaceship, a space station and a spaceport," and be home to a thousand people.
Though similar in scale and appearance to the USS Enterprise ("it ends up that this ship configuration is quite functional," Dan writes), the "Gen1 Enterprise" would be functionally very different. Firstly, the main nuclear-powered ion engine (boasting 1.5 GW of power) would strictly limit the Enterprise to intra-solar system missions, being incapable of anything approaching faster-than-light speeds. However, Dan claims that the Gen1 would be capable of reaching Mars from Earth within ninety days, and reaching the Moon in three. Comparatively rudimentary compared to the NCC-1701 portrayed on screen, Dan's Gen1 proposal is somewhat analogous to the real world "Tricorder" we looked at last month, being one imaginary technology scaled back to meet present day technological possibilities - though obviously this is a rather more ambitious scheme.
Dan claims that the Gen1 would have ample living space and could generate gravity of 1 g. This would be created by a rotating magnetically-suspended gravity wheel housed within the Enterprise's familiar saucer-shaped section. A counter-rotating ring is also proposed in order to prevent the body of the ship rotating. Dan suggests that the second ring might be filled with water, propellant, or other materials that would be needed aboard ship.
In lieu of a transporter beam Dan proposes a "Universal Lander" which would act as a ferry when the Enterprise operated as a space port in orbit around the Earth, Moon or Mars. The lander would be capable of relaunching from planets using only the rockets and fuel it carried on board, without need of additional boosters.
Constructed entirely in space, Dan claims that, over 20 years, the Gen1 Enterprise, would cost no more that US$1 trillion to build. This is hardly surprising when one considers that it would be 960 meters (3150 feet) long and have a mass equivalent to 28 Saturn V rockets (or about 85 million kilograms or 187 million pounds).
As expensive as it sounds, Dan claims the the project would constitute only (I say only) 0.27 percent of the United States' GDP, and would allow the construction of ever-more advanced Enterprises every 33 years. Dan claims this compares favorably to the Apollo era, when NASA's budget averaged 0.5 percent of the country's GDP. Further, at a spend of $40 billion per year, Dan reckons this equates to 1.1 percent of the 2012 budget.
Dan's also cooked up an ambitious mission schedule that would first put the Gen1 to use as a space station, before sending it on missions to the Moon, Mars, Venus. Subsequent missions would see it diverting asteroids and sending hydrobots to Europa.
If this sounds batty, consider that Dan's idea has clearly caught the public's imagination. In the week since its launch, traffic to Dan's website has spiked from 100 visitors per day to over 40,000, forcing him to purchase a dedicated server. The website is well worth a browse, but bear with it as it does run a little on the slow side. She just can'nae take it. (Sorry.)
A video demoing gravity wheel functioning can be seen below.