Interstellar Travel

Interstellar travel is the term used for hypothetical crewed or uncrewed travel between stars or planetary systems. Interstellar travel will be much more difficult than interplanetary spaceflight; the distances between the planets in the Solar System are less than 30 astronomical units (AU)—whereas the distances between stars are typically hundreds of thousands of AU, and usually expressed in light-years. Because of the vastness of those distances, interstellar travel would require a high percentage of the speed of light; huge travel time, lasting from decades to millennia or longer; or a combination of both.

 

The speeds required for interstellar travel in a human lifetime far exceed what current methods of spacecraft propulsion can provide. Even with a hypothetically perfectly efficient propulsion system, the kinetic energy corresponding to those speeds is enormous by today’s standards of energy production. Moreover, collisions by the spacecraft with cosmic dust and gas can produce very dangerous effects both to passengers and the spacecraft itself.

A number of strategies have been proposed to deal with these problems, ranging from giant arks that would carry entire societies and ecosystems, to microscopic space probes. Many different spacecraft propulsion systems have been proposed to give spacecraft the required speeds, including nuclear propulsion, beam-powered propulsion, and methods based on speculative physics.

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