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RE: starship-design: Go Starwisps
I have always had a big problem with shielding requirements on
interstellar flights. It doesn't even require extraordinary
densities, at near relativistic speeds the IMPACT density per
unit time at the front of the ship is going to be generating
enough radiation to fry a small planet. At Starwisp velocities,
there will be some degradation of performance, but we only need
about 0.96 c for realistic missions. The probe doesn't care about
time dilation. The sail material is thin enough that most particles
would pass right through without even noticing it. Because of the
wavelength of the propelling laser (or sunlight), it could look like
swiss cheese and still be functioning with 99 percent efficiency.
This brings up an interesting point, the bow wave of radiation given
off by a starship travelling at near relativistic speeds should be
detectable for a LONG ways. Since we have observed no such effects a
few conclusions are possible:
1) There are no nearby star travelling civilizations (possible)
2) There are no star travelling civilizations (unlikely)
3) Star travelling civilizations don't travel at near relativistic
4) There is no life out there...
"Never underestimate the joy people derive from hearing something they
-- Enrico Fermi (1901-1954)
You don't need to send a probe on an interstellar flight to check out the
engines, and we have a fair idea of what radiation is in interstellar space.
A bigger concern whould be what material is in interstellar space. If as
one theory suggests, theirs traces of lots of lose carbon molecules in deep
space. Runing into them at near light speeds could be real hard on a ship.
It would also shread a starwhisp or micro wave sail very quickly.
Probably we'ld have to assume the worst and build in counter measures. Like
per blast a area of interstellar space with the big maser area and see what
glowed, and launch a dust cloude ahead of the ship to blast a path clear.