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The first international contest to let students shape the future of interstellar travel.
The first international contest to let students shape the future of interstellar travel.
The first international contest to let students shape the future of interstellar travel.
100 backers pledged £6,387 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

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Project Dragonfly - Sail to the Stars

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Haven’t you once looked up into the night sky and were awestruck by this majestic, yet silent landscape? The carpet of stars and galaxies seemingly so close that you would just have to stretch out your hand to touch them? And maybe the obvious question came into your mind: Can we get there?

When I was a kid, on a warm summer night, I was lying on a spot of grass, alone, the hum of a highway far away, and asked myself exactly this question. Can I get there? Can I reach the stars? I could not answer this question. But I needed to find out…

The idea behind Project Dragonfly, sending small spacecraft, to another star, propelled by a laser beam, emerged in early 2013 when I visited Professor Gregory Matloff in New York. Greg is one of the key figures in interstellar research. We talked about different propulsion methods for going to the stars and realized that nobody had yet done a design for an interstellar laser-propelled mission. Soon after this conversation, Project Dragonfly was officially announced by the Initiative for Interstellar Studies. However, it took another year to get to the point where we were able to organize an international design competition in order to speed up our search for a feasible mission to another star, based on technologies of the near future.

-Andreas Hein, Deputy Director i4is, Project Lead Dragonfly

Today, we live in a unique period of time: we may soon have the technological capabilities to build and launch a spacecraft to the stars. Isn’t that amazing? Humanity has existed for over 200,000 years and now we live in a time where we can work towards going to the stars. More precisely, scientists and engineers have been working on approaches to get to the stars since about 50 years.

What is Project Dragonfly?

Many previous approaches for going to the stars have depended on extremely large and heavy spacecraft, based on concepts such as nuclear propulsion systems, for example nuclear fusion or antimatter. Besides the technological barriers to realising these propulsion systems, they have another disadvantage: they all have to carry their fuel with them, which is then burnt to generate the propulsive thrust. As interstellar travel requires velocities at least of a couple of percent of the speed of light, large quantities of fuel are required. And by large, we mean really large! Existing concepts of fusion-propelled spacecraft are as heavy as skyscrapers. Accelerating all the fuel which is ultimately burnt is actually not a very efficient way to get to the stars

Project Dragonfly aims at a different approach: the spacecraft don’t carry any propellant with them. But how can you propel a spacecraft without any propellant? The answer is that you use an external source of energy. The basic idea is not new - it is, in fact, very old. For centuries, humans have travelled the seas using sailing ships. We also plan to use a sail. But a sail which is made of an extremely thin reflective surface. This sail would be illuminated by a laser beam from a laser power station somewhere in the solar system. The photons of the laser beam push the sail, similar to the wind pushing a sail of a sail ship. And by pushing the sail, the spacecraft slowly accelerates. However, as the spacecraft does not use any on-board fuel, it can accelerate to very high velocities in the range of several percent of the speed of light.

Furthermore, Project Dragonfly builds upon the recent trend of miniaturization of space systems. Just a few decades ago, thousands of people were involved in developing the first satellite Sputnik. Today, a handful of university students are able to build a satellite with the same capability as Sputnik, which is much cheaper and weighs hundreds of times less than the first satellite. We simply think further. What could we do with the technologies in about 20-30 years from now? Would it be possible to build spacecraft that can go to the stars but are as small as today’s picosatellites or even smaller?

Swarm of laser-sail spacecraft leaving the solar system by Adrian Mann
Swarm of laser-sail spacecraft leaving the solar system by Adrian Mann

Why a competition?

Usually space engineers develop a preliminary engineering design. They use this initially study to see if such a mission is indeed possible and what technologies are needed. If the study is deemed feasible, investments in developing the required technologies and in hiring and training the right people can be made.

Thus, an engineering design is the first step towards realizing an interstellar mission. This is exactly the purpose of the Project Dragonfly Design Competition. Five international university teams are currently working on studies for a small laser-propelled interstellar spacecraft. The final design reports of the teams shall cover all areas, which are relevant to make the mission a success and to return scientific data from such a mission: instruments, communication, laser sail design, power supply, secondary structure, deceleration propulsion etc. Furthermore, the technological as well as economic feasibility of the architecture shall be assessed by the teams. The teams and i4is will meet in London later this year in order to evaluate their designs

The results from the competition shall serve as a basis for future technology development for the realisation of such a mission. With the increasing interest in cubesats and solar sails, this is becoming ever more likely.

Why should you back this campaign?

Imagine in a couple of decades that a real spacecraft is launched to the stars and that the design of the spacecraft stems from this competition. You will have helped to initiate the whole thing. Reaching another star will be one of the major events in human history and you will have been part of it. 

Where does your money go?

With your contribution, you directly support the international students working on this in their free time. The money will be used to fund the teams' travel expenses to the final presentations day in London and the organization of this event. There, the students can share their ideas with each other and with professionals in the field. Enabling this important knowledge transfer - and giving them the chance to network with like-minded people - will bring them closer to achieving a significant contribution to humankind's expansion into space.

What are we hoping to do with the funds from this campaign?
What are we hoping to do with the funds from this campaign?

Who is responsible for this competition?

The competition is conducted within the framework of the Initiative for Interstellar Studies. The team organizing it consists of Kelvin F. Long, Andreas Hein, Rob Swinney, Martin Langer, Gill Norman and Dan Fries. 

Our long term vision

Project Dragonfly is a feasibility study for a space mission to another star. It is conducted by the Initiative for Interstellar Studies I4IS. Our goal is to send a robotic spacecraft to another star, in order to explore exoplanets, other star systems, the interstellar medium and discover potential life.

The Teams

Five universities from all around the world are currently participating in the contest: Cairo University, Technical University of Munich, University of California Santa Barbara, Cranfield University and Toronto University. To give you an idea of why they joined and who they are, we would like to introduce them to you:

The Technical University of Munich

Team „Munich – WARR/ISF“
Team „Munich – WARR/ISF“

The Team from the Technical University of Munich is a sub group of the WARR, the Scientific Research Group for Rocketry and Spaceflight that engages in Interstellar Studies. The members of Interstellar Spaceflight group are (from top left to top right) Johannes Breitenbach, Martin Losekamm, Lukas Schrenk, Nikolas Perakis, Artur Koop and Johannes Gutsmiedl. Apart from Martin Losekamm who studies applied physics they are all aerospace technology students.

Cranfield University

Team CranSEDS - Cranfield University
Team CranSEDS - Cranfield University

  The team CranSEDS consists of students enrolled at the Cranfield University-UK , UPS-France and Skoltech-Russia. It encompasses students from various backgrounds currently pursuing graduate degrees in astronautics and space engineering at the aforementioned institutions. Overall about 10 different nationalities are represented within the team.

University of California Santa Barbara

Team UCSB - University of California Santa Barbara
Team UCSB - University of California Santa Barbara

  The team from the University of California Santa Barbara consists of Philip Lubin, Kyle McDonough, Caio Motta, Alex Lang, Sebastian Arias and Travis Brashears (from left upper corner anti-clockwise on picture).

Cairo University

The Cairo University Team
The Cairo University Team

The Cairo team consists of a number of highly motivated and active aerospace and communication engineering students. They all have been involved with conceptual and practical projects in the past. Moreover, a number of them contributed voluntarily to technical and non-technical magazines and societies, like the Space generation Advisory Council. Very recently, they also participated in the NASA Space Apps challenge 2015. Their university is currently the only one in Egypt engaging in Aerospace sciences and through their work they hope to interest more people in related topics and convey its importance for future generations.

Organizing Team

Andreas Hein

 Andreas Hein received his Master's degree in aerospace engineering at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen and is currently working towards a PhD degree at the same university in the area of space systems engineering. He did part of his research at MIT. During his Master's, he spent a semester abroad at the Institut Superieur de l'Aeronautique et de l'Espace in Toulouse as well as at the European Space Agency's Strategy and Architecture Office, working on future lunar infrastructures. He is a recipient of a doctoral scholarship of the German Academic Exchange Service DAAD, a student member of the International Honor Society for Systems Engineering ­ Omega Alpha Association, and a Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society. 

Dan Fries

Funded by the Fulbright scholarship, Dan received his M.Sc. in Aerospace Engineering in 2013 from the Georgia Institute of Technology and is currently working towards his German diploma at the European Space Agency. His specialization is in advanced airbreathing and space propulsion systems as well as atmospheric reentry. Due to his personal interest he also has experience with systems engineering and group management. In 2013/2014 he succesfully led a team at the University of Stuttgart in the International Mars Inspiration Engineering Design Contest. 

Martin Langer 

Martin Langer has received his Masters' degree in aerospace engineering at the Technische Universität München (TUM) and is currently pursuing a PhD at the Institute of Astronautics at the same university. His research interests cover the reliability of Small Satellites and the influence of high energy radiation on satellite components. He is the current project manager of MOVE-II, a single unit CubeSat, due to be launched in 2017 and was also member of First-MOVE, the first satellite of TUM, launched in 2013.

Rob Swinney

Rob Swinney is a deputy director of the Initiative for Interstellar Studies, a not-for-profit organisation incorporated in the UK. I4IS, established in 2012, is dedicated to education and research in to the science and technology required to achieve true interstellar travel. Rob is a retired Air Force aerosystems engineer and has been involved since 2009 with projects looking into the feasibility of extreme deep space exploration pushing the boundaries of what is known and what is, or shortly may be, possible.

Gill Norman

Gill received her MSc in Astrophysics from Queen Mary, University of London. It was there that she met two of the now I4IS directors, Kelvin F. Long and Jeremy Clark, and stayed in touch with them whilst furthering her career in Finance, IT, Training and Organisational Development. She volunteered for I4IS a year ago and is now a Deputy Director. As an ex-accountant, she is looking after the finances of the Dragonfly campaign.

Rewards

Since we received several questions regarding several of our pledge rewards, we want to give you some more insights and details:

T-shirt, poster, and postcards by David A. Hardy and Adrian Mann

The T-shirt, poster, and postcards will be illustrated by world-renown space artists David A. Hardy and Adrian Mann. The illustrations will be based on the winning team's starship. As the teams are currently working on the design, the final look is not already available. But you can get an idea of the amazing quality of the paintings and illustrations these artists are able to produce!  

The grand master of space art, David A. Hardy will support our Kickstarter campaign by providing us with a painting of the winning team's spacecraft. David is the longest active space artist in the world and keeps illustrating the universe and the future.

by David A Hardy
by David A Hardy
by David A Hardy
by David A Hardy
by David A Hardy
by David A Hardy

Adrian Mann is a world-renown space artist who is known for his remarkable images of space ships of today and the future. He also created the images that accompany Project Dragonfly. 

by Adrian Mann
by Adrian Mann

The 3D-printed model (Pledge Level “The Fleet Admiral”)

 Please be aware that currently we cannot show you the design of the final model, since it will be based on the winning design of the competition. But how do we know that it is possible to manufacture such a model? And that it will be a magnificent conversation starter? Cause we did it in the past. Have a look at the pictures of our interstellar ICARUS ship. Isn’t it a beauty?

CAD drawing of a sample starship to be 3D-printed
CAD drawing of a sample starship to be 3D-printed
Example for a 3D-printed starship
Example for a 3D-printed starship

Become a Fleet Admiral and get your own Dragonfly model. As soon as the competition is over it will be manufactured based on the 3D CAD model of the winning entry design. Truly a unique chance to expand your personal Starfleet. Estimated time of delivery is November, since we want to be safe with possible manufacturing delays and guarantee you the 3D-model in the quality you deserve.

Beyond the Boundary  

One of our pledge rewards features the I4IS book, "Beyond the Boundary". It contains everything you need to know to get started on your own interstellar journey. To give you a better impression of what awaits you inside, here is a sneak peek: The book features contributions from members across I4IS on diverse subjects such as the scientific and societal benefits of interstellar exploration, defining the fundamental requirements, the use of wormholes and faster than light travel, interstellar communications, launch vehicles and many other chapters exploring missions scenarios, propulsion options and the search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

Cover of the book
Cover of the book

If you want to know more, here are a few free snippets of the book:   

Table of contents

Foreword by Jon Lomberg

The Greatest Challenge: Manned Interstellar Travel by Andreas Hein

And of course, you can always directly send us any questions you have. To infinity and beyond!

Risks and challenges

To achieve interstellar flight, a huge effort in cooperation, planning, technological and social development has to be made. This international competition brings together young people and professionals from around the world to lay some of the foundations needed to do that. A number of risks and challenges specific to this project are addressed below.

First of all, you will be investing into the dreams and ideas of bright minded, enthusiastic young students from all over the world. They are working around their studies each day to design their first interstellar mission. During this campaign we promise to keep you updated all the way to the competition final, introducing you more closely to the teams, their work and to us, the organizers. And we will be open for questions and suggestions (both on interstellar flight and on the competition itself) any time.

-What if our participants cannot deliver the required designs and quality?-
Our organization team has been involved in a number of spaceflight related projects, campaigns and student initiatives (http://www.i4is.org/news/dragonfly). With this experience, we believe we can give the right feedback to the teams for them to come up with innovative and well thought out ideas. For example, the teams are requested to deliver several intermediate reports. These reports are scrutinized by us and a team of experts, consisting of university professors and engineers working in the space industry. In all fairness, we do not know the outcome of all the work currently being done by the teams; it could happen that the work of some teams will remain unfinished, or some of the designs may be challenged by the experts during the competition (although we believe that would be beneficial for the students). However, we are very confident that this is the best approach for enabling bright minded, young people to share their ideas with the world and to serve as a basis for future technology development on interstellar flight.

-Are the pledge rewards going to be delivered reliably and on time?-
Since we will be assembling and sending out every package personally, please be patient with us on the estimated delivery time. Of course if there are any problems, please let us know. Also if you spontaneously decide to change your shipping address to, let’s say, Alpha Centauri, for example.

-Interstellar travel is still far from today’s reality. Is this not just a waste of time and money?-
No, it is definitely not. Large endeavors require advanced planning, often decades in advance. If we want to launch an interstellar mission at some point within the 21st century, we need to start thinking about options and technologies now. And we believe that today, we actually have the required technologies at our disposal to make a realistic assessment. In order to make sure that the results of this competition are not lost, we will be sharing all results with a larger audience at the workshop and will also make them accessible to the public sometime shortly thereafter. Furthermore, we are supplementing the education of talented students from all over the world. By getting feedback from experts and working on a challenging project, we hope to contribute to growing the next generation of space engineers!

- When are our spaceships departing earth?-
We cannot promise you that these students’ designs will be amongst those that first achieve interstellar flight. But we firmly believe that designing small spacecraft, using technologies of the near future is the best way to start. We simply wish to help accomplish the first small steps. What we can promise is that we bring together enthusiastic young people and some of the best professionals in the field from around the world (and possibly you) to help lay the foundations necessary to reach that ultimate goal.

Moreover, within the framework of the i4is, the results will be used to actually implement this mission on a small scale (at first) in the future, for example for a small satellites mission; the students will be encouraged to continue contributing to the mission of interstellar travel.

So put on your space suit - be a part of the future - and shape it today!

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge £3 or more About $4

    The Cadet - A heartfelt thank you with your name listed as a committed contributor on the Homepage of Project Dragonfly.
    All the contributor's names are listed with their respective pledge rank!

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    Pledge £8 or more About $12

    The Lieutenant - A thank you and a name listing as above and you will receive one of our limited Certificates of Support to Dragonfly via email.

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    Pledge £10 or more About $15

    The Squadron Leader - All of the above and we will thank you with an exclusive set of postcards featuring our artist Adrian Mann's visions of laser sail spacecraft.

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    Pledge £20 or more About $29

    The Captain - All of the above plus an exclusive A2 poster designed by David Hardy with his impression of the winning Dragonfly entry! Guaranteed to make your home more inspirational.

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    Pledge £30 or more About $44

    The Commander - #1 and #2 above and a limited edition T-Shirt featuring an exclusive Dragonfly motif. If you are the fan who just wants the T-Shirt, then this reward is for you!

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    Pledge £45 or more About $66

    The Vice-Admiral - All of the above to #4 and the limited edition T-Shirt featuring an exclusive Dragonfly motif to show the world that you stand behind Project Dragonfly.

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    Pledge £75 or more About $110

    The Engineer - #1 to #5 above as well as a copy of the I4IS book "Beyond the Boundary". Get to work on that spaceship!

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    Pledge £90 or more About $132

    The Technocrat - #1 to #5 above as well as a copy of the I4IS book "Beyond the Boundary" SIGNED by the editor Kelvin F. Long. Start your own interstellar travel projects!

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    Pledge £118 or more About $173

    The Interstellar Librarian - #1 an #2 above along with exclusive early access to all results as soon as they are produced during the competition. Knowledge is power!

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    Pledge £165 or more About $241

    The Fleet Admiral - #1 and #2 above as well as an exclusive 3D-printed model of the winning design of this competition. What a conversation starter for your desk! And only the start of your personal Dragonfly swarm.

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    Pledge £275 or more About $402

    The Stellar Merchant - All of the above rewards (yes, ALL of them, including the limited signed book!) to demonstrate the support you are giving to a great endeavour. Let's get to those stars!

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    Reward no longer available 5 backers
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    Pledge £360 or more About $526

    The Hegemon - All of the inspirational rewards above (yes, all of them!) AND a VIP invitation to the award ceremony in London, where you will personally interact with the student teams and interstellar experts. (Does not include travel or accommodation - ceremony 3rd of July 2015)

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Funding period

- (30 days)