How soon could humanity launch a mission to the stars? That’s the question considered today by Marc Millis, former head of NASA’s Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project and founder of the Tau Zero Foundation which supports the science of interstellar travel.
By looking at the rate at which our top speed and financial clout are increasing, and then extrapolating into the future, it’s possible to predict when such missions might be possible. The depressing answer in every study so far is that interstellar travel is centuries away.
Today, Millis takes a different approach. He looks at the energy budget of interstellar missions. By looking at the rate at which humanity is increasing the energy it has available and extrapolating into the future, Millis is able to estimate when we will have enough to get to the stars.
To make his extrapolation, Millis looked at the amount of energy the US has used to launch the shuttle over the last thirty years or so, as a fraction of the total energy available to the country. He assumes that a similar fraction will be available for interstellar flight in future. He then calculates how much energy two different types of mission will consume.