A group of scientists, working on a mission called Project Icarus, are exploring the possibility of harvesting gas from Uranus to fuel a theoretical mission to another star. Helium-3 is the gas they are after — the Earth’s supply ran out many moons ago — and it holds great potential for clean and efficient fusion power. In addition to fueling a very powerful engine that could send a probe to another star, Helium-3 could be a useful gas to have on hand on Earth — you’d need only 14,000 tons to power the entire planet for a year.
The scientists working on Project Icarus are thinking about shooting a rocket to Uranus with a robotic hot air balloon which could be filled with the gas and then float its merry way back to earth. Project Icarus is the re-incarnation of another interstellar travel project that was spearheaded in the 1970′s, called Project Daedalus. Project Daedalus meant to, “design a credible interstellar probe that is a concept design for a potential mission in the coming centuries.”
The scientists working on the mission are attempting to use current, or near future technology to explore the possibility of an interstellar unmanned trip to Barnard’s star which is 5.9 light years away. A huge obstacle has been finding the right kind of fuel, as oil is just too heavy for any distant travel and the engine needed to push a probe 5.9 light years would need to be huge. They believe with Helium-3 on hand, they could have this probe ready by 2100.
Maybe we won’t see it fly off into outer space, but when it does, it could bring back some interesting information about the great unknown.
All photos from Project Icarus