DARPA wants your ideas for a 100-year starship

May 23, 2011 By Nancy Atkinson
Will humanity one day boldly go... somewhere? Credit: Paramount.

The idea for a 100-year starship has been tossed around recently, and now DARPA the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has put out a Request for Information (RFI) looking for ideas about how a long-term human mission to boldly go out to the stars could possibly happen. It’s been estimated that such a mission would cost over $10 billion, and the idea has gotten $100,000 from NASA and $ 1 million from DARPA – which means that as of now it is just that, an idea.

Pete Worden, the Director of NASA’s Ames Research Center announced the idea last fall, and it received plenty of coverage, but not much publicized research on how the idea could possibly come to fruition. Worden optimistically said he expected to see the first prototype of a new propulsion system within the next few years, but that seem unlikely given NASA’s frozen budget and a Congress that doesn’t seem very forward-looking in their vision for what NASA should be doing. But perhaps DARPA’s input could have some leverage.

There would be several technological obstacles to overcome, such as how to create an artificial gravity so that those aboard the ship wouldn’t experience the muscle and bone loss that astronauts on the ISS have after just six months in space. Then there’s how to manufacture food, and create other things the crew might need while they are out in the middle of nowhere. Those are just a few examples of what would need to be dealt with.

But anyway, a journey starts with a single step, and so if you’ve got any ideas, here’s DARPA’s RFI (hurry, you’ve only got until June 3, 2011!):

DARPA is seeking ideas for an organization, business model and approach appropriate for a self-sustaining investment vehicle in support of the 100 Year StarshipTM Study. The 100 Year StarshipTM Study is a project seeded by DARPA to develop a viable and sustainable model for persistent, long-term, private-sector investment into the myriad of disciplines needed to make long-distance space travel practicable and feasible. The genesis of this study is to foster a rebirth of a sense of wonder among students, academia, industry, researchers and the general population to consider “why not” and to encourage them to tackle whole new classes of research and development related to all the issues surrounding long duration, long distance spaceflight. DARPA contends that the useful, unanticipated consequences of such research will have benefit to the Department of Defense and to NASA, and well as the private and commercial sector. The information obtained will be used for planning and acquisition strategy development. DARPA will use the information obtained as a result of this RFI on a non-attribution basis. Providing data and information that is limited or restricted for use by the Government for that purpose would be of very little value and the inclusion of such restricted/limited data/information is discouraged. Responses as a single file in Adobe PDF electronic format can be submitted to 100YSS@.mil by 12:00 pm (noon) Eastern Time, Friday, June 3, 2011. For complete details of this notice, please refer to the attachment, "RFI – 100 Year Starship Study".

Explore further: DARPA issues BAA for advanced robotic translator

Related Stories

DARPA issues BAA for advanced robotic translator

April 7, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has issued a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for the procurement of research leading to an advanced robotic device capable of performing as a translator ...

Air Force and ULA to launch second X-37B

February 9, 2011

From all appearances the first flight of the U.S. Air Force’s secretive X-37B space plane was a complete success. As such, the Air Force is planning to launch a second Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) on March 4 from Cape ...

MIT wins Pentagon prize in social networking contest

December 7, 2009

A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has won a 40,000-dollar prize for using social networking tools to identify the locations of 10 large weather balloons in a contest sponsored by the Pentagon's ...

Recommended for you

Eclipse 2017: Science from the moon's shadow

December 11, 2017

On Dec. 11, 2017, six researchers discussed initial findings based on observations of the Sun and on Earth gathered during the solar eclipse that stretched across North America on Aug. 21, 2017. Ranging from new information ...

Unravelling the mysteries of extragalactic jets

December 11, 2017

University of Leeds researchers have mathematically examined plasma jets from supermassive black holes to determine why certain types of jets disintegrate into huge plumes.

The initial mass function

December 11, 2017

The gas and dust in giant molecular clouds gradually come together under the influence of gravity to form stars. Precisely how this occurs, however, is incompletely understood. The mass of a star, for example, is by far the ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) May 23, 2011
Okey, this is my idea. The spacecraft should have inner walls made of highly efficient, durable or easily repairable screens which work like e-paper. If I would be an astronaut in a spacecraft which walls look just the same in day after day, I would soon feel more and more distressed. If, on the other hand, the walls have changable pictures of nature, it would make a great difference in mental health of the crew. Furthermore, sunrise pictures on a "morning" and sunset pictures on an "evening" might help with keeping their biological clocks in time.
4.5 / 5 (8) May 23, 2011
Starship Earth is fine.
Of course, the on-board maintenance and crew leaves much to be desired.
4 / 5 (4) May 23, 2011
this would take more than one ship, and would require a harvestable resource or two. In order for highways to be paid for, there has to be an economy that survives by it. I suggest the idea of "Space Gold" to spawn a mining rush for the essentials like fuel, water, metals for ship building. Wouldn't it be great if we discovered a new technology that required "space gold" and all the countries of the world ended up in a race to control that new economy.
2.6 / 5 (10) May 24, 2011
Deep space travel is already possible and is being achieved. What this project is proposing is to include humans onboard, which has not been done.

In essence, however, there is no need to include humans on exploration spacecraft. The Mars rovers have demonstrated conclusively how much better planetary exploration can be achieved if humans stay at home, the Voyager probes have done the same for space.

There is just no point in sending humans into space unless there is a clear destination and that is the job of probes. We have at least 100 years of probe technology and exploration to keep our imaginations busy before any serious deep space exploration (extra-solar system) should even be contemplated.

Get real....
4 / 5 (4) May 24, 2011
dear robert; "The genesis of this study is to foster a rebirth of a sense of wonder among students, academia, industry, researchers and the general population to consider why not and to encourage "
Obviously, as stated in the article, the private industry for such project would be about $10B. Right now the funding sits at $1.1M The article states that their intention is NOT to build a ship.
5 / 5 (2) May 24, 2011
To maximize both sustainability and protection, the ship must utilize a liquid barrier, hydroponics, and centrifugal force designs. The water being used as a barrier against harsh rays will also help keep it sterilized. Hydroponics will be the trickiest part, but must be self sustaining, or hardy in nature. The living quarters must be located the furthest from the outside as possible , but still retain a good amount of the induced gravity. The ship could take on some fairly odd shapes as well. I.e. if solar sails do work, using a sort of wind-mill type design to induce both power and rotation might be good, but only used as a secondary system. Speaking of, systems on such a ship must number no less than 3 at minimum. 3 forms of power. 3 forms of protection. 3 systems of food sources.


Just some ideas.
5 / 5 (3) May 24, 2011
10 billion dollars? Where did they come up with that number? If you could do it for that much money it would have been done a long time ago. There is no reliable way to know how much such a manned mission would cost, but it would certainly be many multiples of the cost of Apollo, even adjusted for inflation.
2.3 / 5 (3) May 24, 2011
A giant (>100m) stick with inflatable habitat surrounded by hydrogen tanks at one end, VASIMR or nuclear thermal engine in the middle, and nuclear reactor and/or additional fuel tanks as a counterweight on the other end, rotating for artificial gravity.

Such design was proposed for Mars mission during Constellation era, and it seems very plausible to me.
not rated yet May 24, 2011
Okay... i think Peter Diamantis from XPrize hase a new X-Price "Develop a 100 year starship" !
3.7 / 5 (6) May 24, 2011
Give NASA 10bn a year for 100 years, or 100bn each year for 10 years, and you will get your 100-year starship.
5 / 5 (4) May 24, 2011
"such a mission would cost over $10 billion"

You're missing two 0's in that number, if not three.
5 / 5 (1) May 24, 2011
1. Working space elevator
2. Robot resource operation on Earth's Moon for possible fuel candidates and water.
3. After 20 years of this, expand from our Moon to the asteroid belt or even to the moons of the gas giants if our technology has advanced enough to make this robotic journey worth while for long term resource acquisition.
4. Once an ample supply of water has been gathered and the ability to resupply a vessel that cannot land have been achieved. The last thing to overcome would be gravity. Unless we do more testing on breading mammals in zero gravity environments, humans after 100 years away from Earth, could never return. If we wish to remain in our current evolutionary state, we would need to create gravity on board. This is also the primary reason we have not yet traveled to Mars. Even a trip with no planned landing, which we also can't do, would leave astronauts possibly unable to withstand earths gravity after the return trip.
3 / 5 (2) May 24, 2011
In 500 years, if a spaceship the size of a motorcycle costs 10 billion I would be excited.
1.3 / 5 (6) May 24, 2011
Making spaceships right now is a moronic idea.
There are a few key problems.
- Cheap resources (we should mine asteroids etc.)
- Gravity (duhh)
- Movement (movement through space is very costly atm)

2. Robot resource operation on Earth's Moon for possible fuel candidates and water.

Another moronic idea. Any fuel we can mine from the moon is highly inefficient for spacetravel. PLUs leave the moon ALONE.
3.8 / 5 (6) May 24, 2011
PLUs leave the moon ALONE.

no. The moon is one of the rare places we can do very deep geological studies. We could possibly mine to the core to understand the workings. I understand the core is not longer active, but there may be remnants as well.

The building blocks of planetary science are there. We should explore and study it to all limits.

On the Dark side. ;)
5 / 5 (1) May 24, 2011
Although I think this sounds like a great way to try and develop some new technology, I think it'll likely go nowhere. I would like to see humans engage in deep space travel as much as the next guy, but it is very inefficient at this time. Better probes and more robot missions are the way to go. Once we have a destination with something of value, the rest will fall in place pretty quickly.
2.3 / 5 (3) May 24, 2011
Starship Earth is fine.
Of course, the on-board maintenance and crew leaves much to be desired.

haha, yea. Besides Starship Earth is stuck in an infinite loop near our closest star.

What we should do is to attach huge warp drives on the sides of the planet so we could cruize on it around the universe. That would make us look cooler than any of the aliens.
5 / 5 (2) May 28, 2011
We will probably be replaced by intelligent machines by the time any "life form" (carbon or silicon based) will get off this rock and make it to another star system.
2.3 / 5 (3) May 29, 2011
They're not looking for spaceship designs; they're asking for organization, business model and approach to a sustained research project that might involve and inspire the public. It's a good idea. Though it is fascinating that they went so far as to trademark the name.
3 / 5 (4) May 29, 2011
I know it's a nice round number and certainly conceptually digestible, and 100 years might be great for some wonderfully detailed exploration of the outer solar system, but it won't get you very far in interstellar space. Just what percentage of light speed travel through interstellar space does anyone actually imagine might be feasible? Even at a frighteningly fast 3% you'll want several hundred years to get out to the interesting stuff. We're talking just a dozen light years or so.

Building a human-critical life support system that will keep working continuously for 100 years without a moment in dry dock would be quite an amazing achievement. I applaud the goal and completely support the effort.
4 / 5 (1) May 29, 2011
I can see the asteroid ark ship idea be the one we eventually go with.. you know, basically manufacture the habitat in a hollow core, using the materials on site.. Seems more plausible than building something from scratch and boosting it to orbit somehow
2.1 / 5 (7) May 29, 2011
The crew should be one man and lots of women. That way there will be no fighting. At least until generation two, and then there will be elimination tournaments for one alpha male to kill all the others.
5 / 5 (2) May 29, 2011
"The crew should be one man and lots of women. That way there will be no fighting"

Do you share what you smoke? Are you high? Women are vicious fighters, toolers and nepotists.
2.3 / 5 (6) May 29, 2011
Well, I'm sure the women will be willing to share the man as long as he's sufficiently swarthe enough like the ancient kings of old who had great harems.

Although it will may lead to some competition for attention, I can't imagine it would be anything like the full on murder, say, 10 men and 1 woman would create.

Plus, men are more expendable than women, since 1 man can still impregnate lots of women in 9 months, whereas 1 woman can only have one baby, unless she octomoms.

Actually, what abouts we perfect that stem cell thingy and let women have children from other women, and then have an ALL women crew. Better to send the fairer sex as our representatives, and make sure they are the most feminine women. gldj
3.5 / 5 (2) May 29, 2011
Stars have a natural gravitational lens effect at something like 150 AU. So effectively "any" star in visible range has an effective "window" outside the solar system that largely magnifies radiation along that path.

While not possible today.

If a quantum effect or method could be used to temporarily "spread" out the atoms and molecules enough to permit electromagnetic acceleration, greatly coupling the effects of a linear accelerator could be used to launch say a probe or object thorugh that window.

Some form of dissipation might re-construct the object at a distance.. perhaps in the vacinity of a similar window near a star.

The idea sounds a lot like science fiction. Or manipulating matter at a distance with quantum entanglement.

But that's how radio waves might have sounded a short time ago.

A practical step might be to use the lens gateway to launch a microwave study of objects in orbit around a star.

First by getting there, and observing radiation launch from there long ago
1 / 5 (4) May 29, 2011
Build a prototype at L5 and wring out the bugs first.
3.5 / 5 (2) May 29, 2011
Well another thought is to use the lens window to just transfer information.

Send a slow ship using conventional newtonian dynamics and gravitational assists.

When it gets there break in two; a relay satellite and a factory, send it instructions on "how to build" whatever is needed from raw materials it finds in the oort cloud or asteroids further in towards the inner solar system. Parts, people, whatever. Whether biological or mechanical human minds or programs designed to think like poeple could travel from star to star exploring everywhere at light speed.
not rated yet May 29, 2011
Seems more like fishing for the technologies necessary to survive in isolation for a 100-year (dare I say post-doomsday) period, waiting out the floods, fires, plagues and famines that precipitate/accompany our civilisation's collapse.

Hell, for 10billionUSD, Bill Gates, for instance, could afford one of these. How much would boarding pass and accomodations aboard this Ark cost? Far more than any of us could afford.

The concept is otherwise ridiculous. In order to put one of these in operation, you would first have to positively identify a habitable target world, yes?

Which begs yet another question...
5 / 5 (1) May 29, 2011
What about Protection from Ionizing Radiation? Otherwise forget about humans, they won't last very long.
1 / 5 (4) May 29, 2011
The Babylon 5 design seems quite useful.
1 / 5 (1) May 29, 2011
I completely agree that we better find a worthy goal and use a decent propulsion method before trying To go interstellar.
1 / 5 (1) May 30, 2011
Its a great idea. Its a big universe to explore, a lot to learn, its what we do.
2.3 / 5 (3) May 30, 2011
What about Protection from Ionizing Radiation? Otherwise forget about humans, they won't last very long.

Besides conventional radiation shielding, active magnetic radiation shielding could be used in power-rich environment to deflect the rays.


not rated yet May 30, 2011
Encapsulating the transport (ship,pod,capsule) in a quantum gas which can refract/ride on optical laser wave similar to trains on tracks could yield a near light-speed craft, hopefully beacons of light will probe the far extents of space for humanity as such.
not rated yet May 30, 2011
If DARPA wants to accomplish a 100-year starship mission, it will be needed a Relativistic Space Drive. www.youtube.com/w...wyr5Udzw
1 / 5 (1) May 30, 2011
Start by reading Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy and simply insert current and fringe technologies. Speculative Fiction meets real world.
5 / 5 (2) May 30, 2011
No one is mentioning the necessity for underwire bras, stilletto heels, beehive hairdos and mascara. I think helium in the beehive could keep the astronette upright and the stilletto heels could keep her oriented to normal. (Depending on your definition of course - I don't mean to imply any sexism by the term "astronette" - cross-dressers; welcome!) The underwires could be for intraship communications (heart-to-heart) and of course the weight of the mascara and the hairspray could help maintain bone mass - sort of like
carrying a basket of firewood on your head. The more things change,the more they stay the same.

1 / 5 (2) May 30, 2011
Post deleted by author - upon rereading, it was just too darn negative. I'd rather not spoil the holiday.
not rated yet May 30, 2011
SEND IN PROBES First . Use many asteroids (any near earth object). Seed them all with DNA and an encyclopedia of earth. Include instruction manual for homo sapien DNA and a map for their safe return. really what ever powers comets & asteroids should work fine just go with the flow use what u have but make it look good.
not rated yet Jun 18, 2011

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.