Institute of Atomic-Scale Engineering

 By Forrest Bishop

Copyright (c) 1996, All Rights Reserved

(0) Abstract


 (A Linear Electrostatic Accelerator for Interstellar Nanoprobes)

A proposed method of launching and communicating with microgram-class interstellar probes. The construction of the ~1000 Km long launcher "wires" and the probes requires atomically precise structures (molecular nanotechnology) not currently manufacturable [1]. The proposed launch velocity is ~100000 Km/sec, or one third the speed of light.

The launcher is an array of linear electrostatic motors, partly based on the design in [1]. The probes form the armatures of this machine, which are composed of "active cells" [2] and (super?)conducting elements of a compatible design. These conductors are rearranged after launch to form a microwave antenna [refs], then a magsail [refs].

For purposes of analysis, a study design is specified and characterized, including the reasons for the choices of parameters. Three types of suspension systems are considered. The issues of mechanical oscillations of the probe during boost, overheating, near field Bremsstrahlung interactions, contact dwell time, gap distance, relativistic corrections, alignment, and others are addressed in some detail. The questionable utility and survivability of the probes is argued in the affirmative. A number of strategies for surviving the interstellar passage are discussed.

As the power supply is the functional equivalent of an ordinary car battery and one switch, it is not discussed.

 (1) Introduction

This system launches phalanxes of Shape-Shifting interstellar nanoprobes at one third the speed of light. The probes may be capable of inflight mutual rendezvous, some self repair, and decelerating to orbit the target star system. A method of self-replicating at the new star system is proposed.

Study Design Specifications (will change):

(2) The Launcher

Electrode type: Samarium/Platinum [[quantum wire?]] tunneling junction.

Suspension system: Superconducting magnetic levitation coils on launcher, repelling moving charges on probe. Curved launcher provides balancing centripetal force. [[Electrets embedded in launcher repel charges on probe conductors. No curve to launcher.]]

Alternate "electrode": Electron pre-accelerator replaces negative tunneling gap. This removes the KE losses (probe heating) and diverts some Bremsstrahlung (braking radiation).

(3) The Probe

 Conductor modules. Modular MNT Active Cells for in flight remove and replace. Gantry Cells. Engineering for launch stress.

Standard Cells
 The "MNT Active Cell" design presented in [ref] is used here as the standard active cell, with modifications: Gantry Cells, presented in [ref], are brought along to allow inflight salvage and rebuild of active cell components.


a) Diffraction optics
 Using the standard cells, or the conductor modules, diffractive lensing can be constructed when needed to take a bearing. The desired wavelength is programmable.

Inflight Maneuvering

 b) Translational Movement
For mid-course correction and mutual rendezvous. Dead cells as reaction mass, using standard cell drive system. Variable but limited Isp.

(4) The Transit

The probe rearranges to form a microwave antenna. A salvo of probes rendezvous in flight. The cells rearrange to form a wire, with a sacrificial mass or point probe, and a magnetic coil at the stern to keep it linear by interacting with medium. ?The point probes are superconducting loops for charged particle deflection?. New software is continuously broadcast.

Radiation exposure
Three problems:

  • Cosmic radiation (particle and EM) (High energy)
  • Intercloud particles (Low energy)
  • Intercloud dust grains. ~ 10^4 encounters from here to Alpha Centauri.

 Thousands of probes are launched in rapid succession. Periodic rendezvous, form new point probes from damaged cells. Interrogator cells move up and down the line to determine damage. Go faster. Treat dust grains as blobs of free charge passing through cell. Cells are arranged in lines perpendicular to the velocity. Encounter dwell time at .333c for 100nm cell and 400nm dust grain: (10^-17 s/nm)*500nm=5*10^-15 seconds. Sacrificial point probes arranged as wires, about 3 cm long, parallel to velocity. The dust grain and the point probe are ionized. Superconducting loop point probes come next, deflecting some of the remaining charged particles.

(5) The Arrival

a) The non-braking, fly-by case. A sequenced series of launches and fly-bys mimics a stationary presence. The superconductor problem. Size of Cooper pairs or vortices vs size of conductor.

b) Magsail deceleration. Magsail for "interplanetary" maneuvering? Asteroid search and rendezvous. Need chondrous carbonate or comet. Oort Cloud. Saturn rings. Ionization/ reaction of moieties enroute. Attrition vs obliteration. Stacking moiety palettes vs distributing. Replication. Communication back. Instructions forward. Constructing landing runways (pellet streams).


  • Mechanical oscillations of the probe. Longitudinal phonons generated by charge-gap interactions. Coupling to transverse modes. Partial cancellation damping by varying gap spacing. Active damping?
  • Probe absorbing conversion losses (overheating), and b) radiation.
  • Electron transfer velocities vs. launch velocity (another reason for the electron pre-accelerator).
  • Manufacturing (requires technologies not yet available).
  • Launcher alignment.

 [[Destruction enroute via interstellar medium.]]


  • 100 million gravities tearing probe apart (not even close to C-C bond strength). Applied force is distributed over the length and width of the ribbon-shaped launch configuration.
  • Power supply (10 VDC ). Power switching (one toggle switch). Energy storage.
  • Mass of probe too low to be of use (Contains ~500 million active cells plus ~400 meters of antenna mesh wire). Point probes clear a corridor in interstellar space. Power during flight is sent by maser from launch vicinity.

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