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Space Science Idle Technology

Engineer Thinks We Could Build a Real Starship Enterprise In 20 Years 589

Posted by Soulskill
from the to-boldly-go dept.
Nancy_A writes "An engineer has proposed — and outlined in meticulous detail — building a full-sized, ion-powered version of the starship Enterprise. The ship would be based on current technology, and would take about 20 years to construct, at a cost of roughly $1 trillion. 'We have the technological reach to build the first generation of the spaceship known as the USS Enterprise – so let's do it,' writes the curator of the Build The Enterprise website, who goes by the name of BTE-Dan."
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Engineer Thinks We Could Build a Real Starship Enterprise In 20 Years

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  • An "Enterprise-type" starship is a misnomer at best. An ion drive to get to even the closest star would have to be a "generation" ship. It would take generations of people, born, liviing, dying, to reach the nearest stars.

    The alternative would be some sort of 2001-type hibernation, which also would not be anything like the Enterprise.

    "Beam me up Scottie, there's no intelligent life in this article."

  • by dispersionrelation (2534290) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @10:32AM (#39979023)
    The proposed ship would be starship Enterprise in the same sense the space shuttle Enterprise is the star ship enterprise. Not really a star ship if it can't travel between the stars... So why spend 20 years and 1 trillion dollars building a ship to explore the solar system? I think it would be much cheaper, quicker and more feasible to simply build an armada of probes to explore great tracts of the solar system in a much shorter period of time for much less money then a single ship flying from world to world.
  • by sphealey (2855) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @10:33AM (#39979029)

    There is no doubt that in a situation of species-threatening emergency that mankind has, today, the technology to construct a quite large object in earth orbit and give it enough engine power to move through the solar system (Orion drive or whatever). The problem is that we do not have the technology to get stuff out of the Earth's gravity well with anything greater than 0.1% efficiency, and in the process of building that Enterprise-sized object we would destroy the Earth's atmosphere and ecosystem. So until a 10,000x better surface-to-orbit launch technology comes along this ain't gonna happen.

    sPh

  • by msobkow (48369) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @10:36AM (#39979049) Homepage Journal

    "We have the technological reach... so let's do it..."

    Apparently this fellow has never heard of this little thing called "priorities".

    Like the health care and food issues that face the world, and the tremendous difference that a trillion dollars could make to those problems.

    Or investing it in providing actual high speed access to the third world to help them educate themselves so they can crawl OUT of the cesspool of a third-world lifestyle.

    Or, or, or. There is a long laundry list of things more important than a ship that serves no purpose other than "build it, and they will come."

  • by LordNimon (85072) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @10:37AM (#39979061)

    So why spend 20 years and 1 trillion dollars building a ship to explore the solar system?

    Because it's better than spending a trillion dollars to kill brown people with oil.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @10:37AM (#39979067)

    Technological reach is never the problem. Political reach is.

  • by RichMan (8097) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @10:39AM (#39979087)

    If the ship accelerates under constant acceleration per the description then at the front side of the saucer those on the gravity wheel will feel
    1G - A
    and those on the back side of the saucer will fell
    1G + A

    So every loop around the gravity wheel you go through 2A of gravity variance As the +A thrust vector rotates from your feet to head and side to side of you.

    Sea-sickness prevails.

    It might have a lot of "detail" but an error this glaring just seems that they have missed a whole lot of other stuff.

  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @10:39AM (#39979089) Homepage

    Yep, in a journey to the stars, the first hundred miles [wikipedia.org] is a real bitch.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 12, 2012 @10:41AM (#39979117)

    We're gonna spend a lot more than a trillion dollars on the F-35. We are insanely rich, and we have a ton of money to waste on stuff like this.

  • by pcardoso (132954) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @10:45AM (#39979157) Homepage

    Those trillion dollars would create a lot of jobs building a thing like this.

    Or all those billions going to the moon were wasted and nothing good came out of it?

  • by Qbertino (265505) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @10:46AM (#39979163)

    Seriously, is this a joke? The very first thing I'd chuck away when building a star ship inspired by Star Trek is the design of the Enterprise. There are countless way better, suitable and even more realistic space ship designs than that fragile contraption.

  • by sphealey (2855) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @10:47AM (#39979169)

    = = = = build a space elevator and... = = = =

    Soon as that 1000x-stronger-than-spider-silk cable material is invented, the electrical charge problems are solved, and the people living under the fall path of a broken cable accept the risk we are good to go. Just a few minor engineering obstacles to be sure.

    sPh

  • by flyingsquid (813711) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @11:00AM (#39979257)

    We're gonna spend a lot more than a trillion dollars on the F-35. We are insanely rich, and we have a ton of money to waste on stuff like this.

    Little fact check here. Yes, we are going to spend a trillion dollars on the F-35 over the lifetime of the project. That is, if we're lucky and there aren't additional cost overruns. But no, we do not have tons of money to waste. Right now the U.S. national debt is almost 16 trillion dollars, which comes to about $50,000 for every man, woman, and child. Building this dude's fantasy, assuming it was even doable, would require an additional $3,000 dollars from every person in the country.

    Using the F-35 isn't really a very good example. That's like saying, "all the other kids in the school are doing it!" Just because we're wasting insane amounts of money on military toys that aren't necessary and will probably be hopelessly obsolete within 15-20 years doesn't mean that we can and should waste money elsewhere.

  • by comparison (Score:5, Insightful)

    by StripedCow (776465) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @11:14AM (#39979333)

    Time to build starship: 20 years.
    Time to reach nearest star: 10,000 years (*)

    Based on these numbers, wouldn't it be better to let technology progress a little bit further?

    (*) IANAA, not an astronomer

  • by Dzimas (547818) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @11:21AM (#39979377)
    Columbus didn't sail three Caravels across the Atlantic "just because." The one thing missing in the history of space exploration has been a solid reason to do it. So far, it's been a somewhat aimless pissing match between superpowers -- let's put people on the moon with golf clubs, or float around the planet in a pressurized tin can for 6 months. Whoopee. Things get far more interesting for tribes of bald monkeys when there's a concrete reward involved - mining rights, vast wealth, land, military superiority and so on. Sadly, the whole "space" thing is going to be a bit of a farce until there's profit of some kind to be had. *Then* it gets interesting. And not necessarily in a good way.
  • by chispito (1870390) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @11:21AM (#39979385)
    Hence the statement there is no STARship with just an ion drive. Starships travel between the stars.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 12, 2012 @11:24AM (#39979395)

    at a cost of roughly $1 trillion

    So a fraction of what we spend on the military finding new ways to blow things up or on wall street bailing out incompetent bankers, then?

    We definitely have our priorities don't we?

  • by Patch86 (1465427) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @11:24AM (#39979405)

    More to the point, why on earth would you want to build a spaceship shaped like the Enterprise? It's not a particularly practical design for a spacecraft. It was picked for the show for exactly 3 reasons: 1) it looks like the ship from Forbidden Planet but with enough visual differences to avoid a lawsuit, 2) it looks cool and science-fictiony, 3) it fits in with all the fictional technology that it is fictionally loaded with (warp nacelles, deflector dish, etc). Assuming none of that stuff exists (and it doesn't), then don't make it that shape.

    If what you want is a spaceship with ion engines and a rotating section with faux-gravity for pootling around the solar system, the best shape would not look like the Enterprise. If you must model it on something from fiction, the Discovery from 2001 is probably a better bet; but in reality it'll look much more pragmatically like the stuff we're building now.

    Making it look like a prop from Star Trek is nothing but a nerdy wet dream.

  • Everything that could be done with the "Enterprise" is already much more likely to be done with unmanned probes. The "Starship Enterprise" is as much a waste of money as the space shuttle program was a waste because it failed to build on the success of the Saturn series.

    The simple fact is that we're now back to begging the Russians to use "outdated" technology to do the job because the shuttles were a pork-barrel program that ended up crippling NASA financially and politically.

    The shuttle itself was "defective by design", the seals that led to the Challenger disaster only needed because the SRBs were pork-barrelled out to a location that was far enough away that couldn't ship single-piece SRBs to the launch site, so they had to be built in segments.

    Additionally, medding by the DoD led to the requirement that the shuttle be capable of doing near-high-polar-orbit missions, leading to a lowering of cargo capacity (high-polar orbits can't take advantage of the equatorial boost of the earth's spin).

    Any trillion-dollar program is going to end up with the same problems. And yet, as the skate-board sized Mars Rovers showed, you can do real, long-term exploration - today - for half a billion for a pair of probes.

    NASA's $18 billion could send out a probe a week every week, year-round. When a probe can work for almost a decade ... you do the math.

  • by Absolut187 (816431) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @11:57AM (#39979679) Homepage

    Building ANYTHING can create a lot of jobs. For example, digging a large hole and then filling it back in.

    This really has no bearing on the value of the proposition.

  • by postbigbang (761081) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @12:12PM (#39979795)

    Since when, has any project like this come in for under budget, adjusted for inflation, ever? People do trades on Wall Street that last for milliseconds. What makes you think they'll invest in something that has no guarantee of working, then takes perhaps 60yrs+ to have the first possible return on investment? No one does that these days, because all rewards must be immediate, apparently.

    An ion drive isn't even C+. The rate of return on investment is somewhere near what "Voldemort" did for JP Morgan Chase, except 500x as big-- to start.

  • by tqk (413719) <s.keeling@mail.com> on Saturday May 12, 2012 @12:34PM (#39979973)

    at a cost of roughly $1 trillion

    So a fraction of what we spend on the military finding new ways to blow things up or on wall street bailing out incompetent bankers, then?

    Given the choice of blowing it on a Bernie Madoff or Goldman Sachs/Lehman Bros., I vote we build a starship. I'll clean the Jeffries Tubes.

    To !@#$ with Earth!

  • by CrackedButter (646746) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @12:45PM (#39980065) Homepage Journal

    Doesn't the value depend on what we put in the hole? It would be valuable if we could put all the world's corrupt politicians and lawyers in the hole as opposed to say Jennifer Anniston.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 12, 2012 @12:45PM (#39980073)

    Engineer designs starship in spare time. Here's another man who needs to get laid...

    I oppose your anti-intellectualism. Being intelligent and doing creative work is not an indicator that something is wrong. Getting laid is not the most important thing in the world. Curing diseases, improving agriculture, materials science, space exploration, information technology and other worthy pursuits are done - traditionally - without a requirement of having sex.

    I know women that only fuck tall guys, sports stars, or cops. If women would make a rule to only fuck smart guys, maybe there would be less neanderthal bravado. I would expect this sort of attitude from Reddit or 4chan - but slashdot? Thats no bueno.

  • by furytrader (1512517) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @12:59PM (#39980169)
    I'm sure glad SOMEONE found out a way to inject politics into this discussion. Where would we be without you? Thanks!
  • The fact is that the F22 and F35 have no mission that is "theirs" today. The world has changed. The cold war is over, and a hot war, say, with China, isn't going to be won by either - they can be overwhelmed by sheer numbers. How good is a fighter after it's shot it's load?

    An upgraded F15 [wikipedia.org] and F18 [wikipedia.org] are good enough, and at $100 million and $66 million a piece, a comparative steal.

  • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @01:55PM (#39980577)

    at a cost of roughly $1 trillion

    So a fraction of what we spend on the military finding new ways to blow things up or on wall street bailing out incompetent bankers, then?

    Given the choice of blowing it on a Bernie Madoff or Goldman Sachs/Lehman Bros., I vote we build a starship. I'll clean the Jeffries Tubes.

    To !@#$ with Earth!

    Or one could feed and educate the poor. Just a thought.

  • by History's Coming To (1059484) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @02:11PM (#39980705) Journal
    I was re-reading the Slashdot fusion power Q&A recently. The figure quoted to get the first generation of (barely) economically viable fusion reactors online was $80bn. The yearly spend by the US military is currently in the region of $650bn.

    I suspect that if we want starships all we have to do is find a way of not putting enormous amounts of money into fighting and making money and just use it to develop the required technologies. I suspect that if the worldwide military budget and manpower were devoted to the human species for just one year the we'd see similar leaps in technology as the 1940-1970 period. Engineering is easy, people are difficult.
  • What a dumb idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by shiftless (410350) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @02:32PM (#39980843) Homepage

    Why in the world would we do that?

    There is only so much room on this rock for humanity to spread out and multiply. Eventually, when resources are too short, wars happen....in this age, on a global scale.

    So how does helping more people survive and multiply help? You think these poor peoples from Africa are magically going to discover civilization just because you airlifted pallets of food in? You think that homeless bum on the corner is going to quit being a homeless bum cause you gave him a quarter? No, they are in the situation they are in because of who they are and the choices they made.

    If you want to waste a trillion dollars helping the helpless, by all means, do so...but don't spend any of MY money to do it. I have better things to spend it on....like building a bunker so my family will survive the next World War.

  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @02:33PM (#39980847)
    Never read The Songs of Distant Earth?
  • by JimCanuck (2474366) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @02:49PM (#39980937)

    I suspect that if we want starships all we have to do is find a way of not putting enormous amounts of money into fighting and making money and just use it to develop the required technologies. I suspect that if the worldwide military budget and manpower were devoted to the human species for just one year the we'd see similar leaps in technology as the 1940-1970 period. Engineering is easy, people are difficult.

    I suspect that if we allowed the Military to R&D anything the hell they wanted WITHOUT political interference and gave them the budgets they had in the 1940-1970 time frame, as compared to both the Federal Spending, and GDP of each country, you'd find technology would progress just as fast.

    As far back as the creation of a mass producible silicon transistor, the DoD funded that effort by Shockley to the tune of 15 million dollars (currently would have been 150 million dollars due to inflation of the last 60 years) to get the transistor that was built out of germanium into silicon so that it would be capable of being used in the guidance computers of missiles. You know the same simple technology that without it, we wouldn't be having this discussion on this website today.

    Imagine the military throwing 150 million dollars to create the transistor today, people would go ape shit crazy and call it a total waste of money, the members of Congress would try to make sure that the money was spent in their interests regardless if their locations was not ideal, due to manpower knowledge or otherwise. And in the end the transistor would be another wasted experiment to the tune of a few times the initial 150 million outlay.

    World War 2 and the mass mobilization for war, and then the mobilization to dominate in a MAD situation with nuclear weapons is what drove the progress we had then in the first place, not picking roses in the garden and playing nice with each other.

    If only people were taught history, perhaps we would not have these kinds of discussions.

  • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@ n e tzero.net> on Saturday May 12, 2012 @03:14PM (#39981075) Homepage Journal

    They also envisioned a citizenry that was well trained in the martial arts at all levels and a very active component of the national military made up of state-level militias. Throughout most of American history, the national military was made up of a small core of a modest national army (usually about 30,000 soldiers during peacetime) supplemented with state organized regiments that would grow or shrink as needed. This continued until the end of World War II, when the national army started to dominate the state militias.

    Standards of training, uniforms, and other "regulations" were to come from the national government (and is spelled out explicitly in the U.S. Constitution), but the idea was more of a highly trained citizenry more along how the Swiss Army is organized.

    It is useful to know that Switzerland has been able to defend itself against much larger and more powerful countries, had two world wars rage all about them, yet never had to either capitulate to the demands of the major powers about them nor even get involved in any of those conflicts. Most citizens of Switzerland are armed (at least have weapons in their homes) because they are also members of that nation's military in some capacity, even though they are on "reserve status".

    That was also the point of the 2nd Amendment in the U.S. Constitution, where armed citizens were expected to take the time to learn how to use weapons properly and there was even an assumption that nearly every citizens would take the time to go through at least some sort of military training. Even today I am a member of the "unorganized militia" in the state where I live (well... I was.... I'm a bit too old for that stuff now and the state constitution only requires people under 40 to be in that militia). Other states have similar clauses in their state constitutions and legal codes. How "organized" that "unorganized militia" actually can be is certainly subject to dispute, but it was never envisioned to have America be defenseless.

  • by Creepy (93888) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @03:52PM (#39981295) Journal

    The US's taxation vs GDP [wikipedia.org] (or here if you want a nice chart [taxpolicycenter.org] is far lower than it should be for a first world country - in fact, it is lower than some third world countries (so no, it isn't just Socialism or Communism). There is no reason the country can't afford to pay its debts, buy spacecraft, and fund Social Security and Medicare (personally I say get rid of 'em, but 49% of US citizens have no private retirement savings, and that 49% would probably slam a 24 pack of Budweiser and go shoot up the white house if those programs end) - we just need to change tax codes to start collecting first world taxation.

  • by Imrik (148191) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @03:56PM (#39981317) Homepage

    Oddly enough, helping more people survive tends to lower population growth.

  • by Immerman (2627577) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @04:55PM (#39981611)

    Huh, you mean the Africans chose to have their (largely democratic) governments overthrown and replaced with British pillaging engines? Then when the British were finally kicked out the governments weren't actually replaced, only the people at the helm. Actually changing government at an institutional level is not an easy thing, especially when the vast bulk of the populace lacks the education to understand how (method, if not magnitude) they're being exploited.

    But I'll agree, feeding people doesn't seem to help outside of short-term crises, in fact it can makes things worse by destroying local food markets and driving farmers out of business (potentially turning a short term crisis into an ongoing problem). Fair Trade exports have a related effect, why would a farmer grow food for the local market when he can grow much more profitable goods for the export market?

    Education on the other hand does seem to help, as does free access to birth control and family planning education. It's not that hard for someone living on the knife edge of poverty to understand that they can give a couple kids a much better life than you can a handful, but abstinence is a tough pill to swallow. Of course education especially has it's detractors - every tin-hat dictator and religious power monger realizes their power depends on keeping the populace ignorant and downtrodden, and many won't hesitate to stoop to violent rhetoric to incite the populace against their would-be liberators. Still, there's plenty of places where that's not the case, and as we do what we can there word tends to spread. You can only keep people under your thumb so long before they start noticing that their neighbors who did listen to those vile, evil, disease-spreading infidels are actually looking a lot healthier and happier than they used to.

It's not so hard to lift yourself by your bootstraps once you're off the ground. -- Daniel B. Luten

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