DARPA is offering $0.5 million for organizational proposal to get to a star in 100 years. Ideas?

I found a stunning solicitation for proposals from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for setting up an organizational structure for a "100 Year Starship"TM. (The "TM"is official.) Like the man said, it is a (very) long range plan to get something to a star a century from now. They’re not interested in technology ideas now, but how to set up an “investment vehicle” for business, entrepreneurs, and “technology visionaries,” which can respond to “the accelerating pace of technological, social, and other change” over the next 100 years.

Sounds like a plan…Anyone want to kick around some ideas here before sending in your application?

The long PDF solicitation and mini-essay/justification for the project is here. A one paragraph Web summary is here (at the bottom of the page).

I think that a bunch of right wingers and hippies got together and dropped acid to dream up this idea. There is simply NO WAY that an expedition to another star can be mounted with a reasonable expectation of a profit within the lifespan of the investors.

Near space exploration could conceivably be made profitable by asteroid mining, if a whole lot of technology is developed. And maybe even a good deal of the technology could be applied to an eventual star ship. But even if that is done, when in generations from now someone would have to make the decision to go ahead and build the star ship, a private sector agency will never, ever do it. A government would have to step in and pay for it, purely for whatever knowledge might be gained.

Oh, I wanna add, this smells to me like a Republican scheme to take government out of space exploration. “Let the private sector handle it!” Yeah, sure.

The job of DARPA is to come up with far out ideas. It’s like a government agency dedicated to brainstorming. As with any brainstorming, the vast majority of proposals are junk.

American companies and investors in particular have a reputation of always focusing on short term profits at the expense of long term viability and profits. I have seen press reports suggesting that Japanese investment strategy is more long term oriented. I don’t know if it is true, but if it is, how much longer? Longer than their expected life spans?

Because that is what this RFP boils down to - convincing investors to buy into an idea they will not see a return from in their lives, and therefor won’t even be able to know if it will pay off for the their children or grandchildren.

Honestly, the most realistic proposal for this would be a very strongly socialist economy with government having a very much larger say in the strategies and operations of business. If DARPA loved this idea and funded it, the next day Republicans would be introducing bills in Congress to kill the agency.

The good part is, that a wacky idea might get you half a million bucks – I doubt DARPA would be shut down so fast they didn’t have time to write the check. I am willing to think up some wacky ideas and write them up in a few pages for that kind of payoff. Hell, I do it here for free every day. :stuck_out_tongue:

Let’s put it in a relative concept as it was explained to me:

If our solar system was contained in something the size of a teacup then:

Let me interrupt. The Sun is about 93 million miles from the Earth and the Earth is one of the inner planets. Neptune, Uranus, look it up.

So the outer planets are within the diameter of the teacup. Where would the closest star be?

Remember we are talking relativity. Our entire solar system is within the teacup. The nearest star would be about 3,000 miles away on a relative basis.

With methods of travel as we know them, accessing even a nearby star is beyond anything we can practically conceive. A method of travel would have to be totally revolutionary. 1/2 million dollars is chump change. So, I’m calling bullshit. Anybody that would think that such an offer is attractive is FOS and insane. $50 billion dollars might make a little bit of sense. A trillion dollars might be more like it.

It’s not a half million dollars as the budget for the trip, it’s half a million dollars as a prize for coming up with the idea of how the private sector can finance and carry out the trip in a century’s time.

Oh, which reminds me of another good thing. The winner will have spent the money and died long before the impossibility of the idea is proven. :stuck_out_tongue:

This sounds like a traditional public/private cooperative effort in technology. The idea is a to find a way to allow competing companies to mutually fund an independent research effort. The result will be a set of rules drawn up by founding members, a publication, conferences, and of course these days, a web site.

From the link in the OP:

This sounds like only major players in the aerospace industry need apply.

Its obvious, sell space bonds


Agreed. I daresay that Boeing, eg, and a myriad of subcontractors and their corporate structures were inconceivable a century ago. And the pace of technological change has changed fantastically (as have financial instruments), and will only increase over the next 100 years.

The details of the suggested (and of course that’a all DARPA can hazard) project are fascinating. If nothing else, they are some pure futurology a la Stanislaw Lem, and wonderfully American quasi-capitalist. First comes the business plan.

(Plus, most likely a Republican Party as we know it will most likely not exist by then.)

$500,000 won’t build you a launching pad, let alone an interstellar spacecraft.

Sure it will. It will launch me on my way to Vegas, baby!

Plan A. My first thought is that the best bet is to found a new religion.

I was amused to note that in the Q&A section someone had clearly already already had thoughts similar to my plan B.
Should any proposed investment vehicles be bound by the laws and rules that govern the securities industry in the United States?
Sadly the answer seems to be yes. So massive Ponsi schemes are out.

Plan C. Launch a transmitter to fake a signal from another planet. Hard, really hard actually. But would help a great deal with plan A.

Make a very inspiring, original movie about going to another star. Something like “The man who sold the Moon” (the book), but better. Put Taylor Lautner in it. Put in many visual references to Lockheed (or equivalent), somehow presenting the company as the Apple of spaceship makers.

Invest the box-office proceeds in the project. Or, if you’re still waiting for some Unobtainium, just put it in U.S. treasury bonds.

Hollywood will automatically issue a remake of the movie every 15-20 years for the next century, in 3D and then in Odorama and then in Touch-o-rama, collecting more money along the way.

For $500,000, you could probably hire a gang of heavies to kidnap Bill Gates.

“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

Bill Gates isn’t rich enough. The only reason he has enough money for a new Apollo program is because the R&D’s already been done.

I don’t think it’s premature to say that this isn’t going to produce anything that’s even slightly plausible. It’s like wanting to go to the Moon in a universe where it is physically impossible for anything to move faster than a brisk walk.

My idea would be for people to collectively tell DARPA to fuck off and do their own research. Besides, they have no intention to go to a star, they just want to cadge ideas for new ways to spy on or kill people, and they’re offering an insulting amount of chump change for it.

What’s the closest star that lies within, say, 5 degrees of the plane of the ecliptic?

Ah, but you invest the Gates money in more heavies, and kidnap more billionaires. It’s only business model I can think of that would sustain any sort of meaningful attempt.