April 24, 2008
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA)
Los Angeles Chapter Dinner Meeting
Advanced Space Propulsion
Concepts for Interstellar Travel
Gregory V. Meholic
Presentation Goals and Topics
■ Provide a high-level, information-only overview of various
propulsion concepts that, with sufficient development, may lead
mankind to the stars.
p Will give an “evolutionary” overview of propulsion technology.
■ No recommendations of specific mission designs or propulsion
systems will be made or implied.
■ No developmental timelines or cost estimates will be given or
■ What is Interstellar Travel?
■ Solar System and Interstellar Medium
■ Challenges of “Manned” Star Flight
■ Propulsion System Relationships/Requirements for
■ Conventional Propulsion Schemes
■ Advanced Conventional Schemes
“Propellantless” Physics-Based Concepts
■ Experimental Programs
■ Concluding Remarks
What is Interstellar Travel?
“Interstellar” is defined as “the region between stars”.
■ Why venture beyond our Solar System?
p Explore the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud, the theoretical
home to long-period comets.
p Explore the nature of the interstellar medium.
– Magnetic fields, low-energy galactic cosmic rays, etc.
p Explore the influence of the interstellar medium on the solar
system, its dynamics and evolution.
– And vice versa.
p Explore or better observe nearby solar systems (e.g. Alpha
p Search for life beyond our local region of the galaxy.
p Because humans love to explore!!!
The Ultimate Objective:
For mankind to travel to the stars and return to Earth
within a “reasonable fraction” (around 15 years) of a
■ Speed of Light, c:
~ 3 x 108 meters/sec
■ Astronomical Unit, AU:
Mean distance from Sun to Earth
92,955,807 miles (1 AU)
~ 8.32 light-minutes
~ 0.0000158 light years
■ Light Year, LY:
Distance light travels in one year