Before designing the Gen1 Enterprise, a ship development philosophy is needed. We don’t want to blindly go into such a large and historic undertaking – so let’s think about what makes sense.
First, we want to latch on to the idea of the spaceship USS Enterprise from the Star Trek science fiction. This means that we have to be faithful to the idea and spirit of the Enterprise as much as possible given our technological capabilities. We want the vision of this magnificent ship to pull us up and out into space. This fits with a key goal for the ship’s development which is that the Enterprise should capture the imagination of the American public. We want the Enterprise to be such that, once started, the allure of finishing the ship will be so compelling that a future Congress will not someday decide to cancel it based on the political winds of the moment.
And of course, to help make the Enterprise inspirational to us, we want the ship to look good. Thus the esthetics of the Enterprise must be considered throughout its development.
Second, we want to pursue technologies just within our technological reach. Thus teams of scientists and engineers will be exploring technologies right at the edge of what might be possible to pull off within the twenty year research and development window. Very focused and well-funded research is needed to push the technology curve forward at a fast pace. We are looking for the kinds of advances that took place in the past when substantial focus and funding existed, such as during WWII and during the Apollo space program.
Here are examples of technologies that might be considered well within our technological reach, meaning that the risk of failure for these items over a twenty year period is moderate rather than high:
- Heavy lifters where each rocket can carry a payload of one million pounds
- Space-worthy, long-life, advanced composite materials for most of the ship’s structure to save mass, add strength, and improve radiation shielding.
- 1.5GWe nuclear reactor suitable to put in a spacecraft
- Magnetically suspended and rotating gravity wheel
- 1000 gram/cm2 passive storm shelter to protect humans from space radiation
- Laser with 100MW output
- Robotic supply depots in orbit around Mars and Venus and elsewhere
- Ultra-sensitive onboard sensors and telescopes
Here are examples of technologies that will be very challenging but are likely still within our technological reach over a twenty year period:
- 1.5GWe ion propulsion engine with very high specific impulse
- Radiators, heat pipes, liquid cooling, etc. forming the thermal management system for getting rid of the large quantities of waste heat from the engines and nuclear reactors
- Active shielding against radiation from space
- The Universal Landers (the same crafts can land on earth, the moon, or Mars)
- Robotic laser-diggers for digging large and deep cavities for underground bases
- Robotic base-building equipment for constructing large bases on Mars and the moon
Will the last six technologies listed be hard to develop? Well, yeah. Hey – we are building the USS Enterprise! It’s supposed to be hard. The whole idea is to challenge us – to see what we as a nation can accomplish in a twenty year development window. We want to inspire the next generation to take up the hard work of studying science and engineering in school and then later pursuing technical careers. If it’s not a supreme challenge creating the first generation of USS Enterprise, it wouldn’t be much fun nor would it inspire us to reach beyond ourselves.
While we want the development teams to push themselves, we also don’t want to set up any key systems in the Enterprise for failure because this could impact the overall success of the ship. To avoid any disastrous failures, especially for the highest risk technologies pursued, lower risk alternative technologies will be developed in parallel. Each backup technology developed will be shelved only after it becomes clear that the more advanced technology is going to perform adequately.
In general, to make rapid advances in technologies, many well-funded parallel activities must take place until the final technologies for the Gen1 ship are selected. With about $45 billion per year available during the heavy research years, this will allow some seriously intensive research to take place. Many, many rapid prototypes of each technology can be built, tested, modified, and tried again. The engineering teams will learn by trying many different avenues of ideas in parallel. And also, we cannot wait long to scale things up to the sizes suitable for the Enterprise. For example, the researchers may be building a 1MWe ion propulsion engine to study while at the same time building another by scaling this 1MWe engine up to 1.5GWe. It’s important to learn early on about any issues with scaling technologies up to create the very large systems needed by the Enterprise. Any issues involving cooling, reliability, audile noise, radiation, mounting structures, mechanical stresses, and surely many others related to large systems need to be found and studied early for developing robust Enterprise-sized components.
Thirdly, to maximize the reliability of the Enterprise and to maximize the safety of the humans on board, triple redundancy will be used in the design of all aspects of the Gen1 Enterprise. All of the hulls will be at least triple walled. There will be three ion propulsion engines. There will be three nuclear reactors. There will be three Universal Landers on board when going on missions to the moon, Mars, Venus, or elsewhere. There will be three spaceport hinged doors and three hangars inside of them for docking visiting spacecrafts and the Universal Landers. This same triple redundancy philosophy will be carried forward to future generations of Enterprises too since high reliability will be an essential requirement for the Enterprises that someday venture beyond our solar system.