While NASA's Voyager and Pioneer probes have traveled into local interstellar space, the purpose of these uncrewed craft was specifically interplanetary, and they are not predicted to reach another star system (although Voyager 1 will travel to within 1.7 light years of Gliese 445 in approximately 40,000 years). Several preliminary designs for starships have been undertaken through exploratory engineering, using feasibility studies with modern technology or technology thought likely to be available in the near future.
In April 2016, scientists announced Breakthrough Starshot, a Breakthrough Initiatives program, to develop a proof-of-concept fleet of small centimeter-sized light sail spacecraft named StarChip, capable of making the journey to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system, at speeds of 20% and 15% of the speed of light, taking between 20 and 30 years to reach the star system, respectively, and about 4 years to notify Earth of a successful arrival.
To travel between stars in a reasonable time using rocket-like technology requires very high effective exhaust velocity jet and enormous energy to power this, such as might be provided by fusion power or antimatter.
There are very few scientific studies that investigate the issues in building a starship. Some examples of this include:
- Project Orion (1958–1965), mostly manned interplanetary spacecraft
- Project Daedalus (1973–1978), unmanned interstellar probe
- Project Longshot (1987–1988), unmanned interstellar probe
- Project Icarus (2009–2014), unmanned interstellar probe
- Hundred-Year Starship (2011), manned interstellar craft
Examined in an October 1973 issue of Analog, the Enzmann Starship proposed using a 12,000-ton ball of frozen deuterium to power pulse propulsion units. Twice as long as the Empire State Building and assembled in-orbit, the proposed spacecraft would be part of a larger project preceded by interstellar probes and telescopic observation of target star systems.
A common science-fiction device is to posit a faster-than-light propulsion system (such as warp drive) or travel through hyperspace, although some posit starships as outfitted for centuries-long journeys of slower-than-light travel. Other designs posit a way to boost the ship to near-lightspeed, allowing relatively "quick" travel (i.e. decades, not centuries) to nearer stars. This results in a general categorization[according to whom?] of the kinds of starships:
- Sleeper, which put their passengers into stasis during a long trip. This includes cryonics-based systems that freeze passengers for the duration of the journey.
- Generation, in which the destination would be reached by descendants of the original passengers.
- Relativistic, taking advantage of time dilation at close-to-light-speeds, so long trips will seem much shorter (but still take the same amount of time for outside observers).
- Faster-than-light (FTL), which can move between places very quickly (using inter-dimensional shortcuts or wormholes).
The Alcubierre drive is a speculative warp drive conjectured by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre in a 1994 paper which has not been peer-reviewed. The paper suggests that space itself could be topographically warped to create a local region of spacetime wherein the region ahead of the "warp bubble" is compressed, allowed to resume normalcy within the bubble, and then rapidly expanded behind the bubble creating an effect that results in apparent FTL travel, all in a manner consistent with the Einstein field equations of general relativity and without the introduction of wormholes. However, the actual construction of such a drive would face other serious theoretical difficulties.
There are widely known vessels in various science fiction franchises. The most prominent cultural use and one of the earliest common uses of the term starship was in Star Trek: The Original Series.
(This list is not exhaustive.)
Groups of shipsEdit
- Bioship – Type of fictional spacecraft or starship made of biological elements
- Intergalactic travel – Hypothetical travel between galaxies
- IXS Enterprise – NASA conceptual interstellar ship
- Mother ship – Large vehicle that leads, serves, or carries other smaller vehicles
- Project Icarus (interstellar) – 2009 project to update design of Project Daedalus
- Project Longshot – Design for a 400 tonne nuclear pulse propelled unmanned spacecraft to reach and orbit Alpha Centauri
- 100 Year Starship – Grant project to work toward achieving interstellar travel
- Spaceflight – Flight into or through outer space
- Space travel in science fiction – Fictional methods, e.g. antigravity, hyperdrive
- Starship Technologies – Company developing small self-driving robotic delivery vehicles
- Unidentified flying object – Unusual phenomenon in the sky that is not readily identifiable
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- "How to facilitate construction of a fleet of starships" (PDF). Indymedia Australia. Independent Media Center. June 20, 2014. Archived (PDF) from the original on August 10, 2020. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
- Starship Dimensions (to-scale size comparisons)
- Starship Names (a Sci-Fi wiki article, outside Wikipedia)