An engineer, revealing himself only as BTE-Dan, created a website explaining how humans, and more specifically Americans, can and should build a spaceship over the next 20 years -- a spaceship that resembles Star Trek's Enterprise.
The website is BuildTheEnterprise.org. BTE-Dan has assembled a massive collection of analyses (mostly his own) and has posted them there. These range from overall ship design (the Enterprise's shape and form) to the engines to the gravity wheel needed to generate the 1g of centrifugal force for humans to live and work as they would on Earth. His intention is to only have the exterior of the ship resemble the Enterprise, not for us to come up with all of the technologies that are present in any of its incarnations. Here are some of the technologies we already have that he would like included or ones he believes we can reasonably develop in the 20-year window:
- Gravity wheel: With a diameter of about 1,500 feet, the wheel would need to spin at about two rotations per minute in order to generate the 1g. This wheel would be magnetically suspended and driven to reduce wear and tear since no moving parts ever touch each other. This would be housed within the Saucer Hull, which is the perfect shape for a gravity wheel, being circular. Take a look at this demo video to see more: http://youtu.be/VMafReWFSfE.
- Ion engines: BTE-Dan would like to see a 1.5GWe (Giga Watt electrical) ion engine developed as the ship's primary drive. This would be housed in (for those who are familiar with the "actual" Enterprise design) the Engineering Hull. There would also be two auxiliary 0.5GWe engines housed in the Nacell Hulls. Humans have currently designed 200MWe (0.2GWe) engines, so this isn't a huge stretch.
- Nuclear reactors: To go along with the ion engines, BTE-Dan's design calls for nuclear reactors of the same power output as is needed for the engines -- so one 1.5GWe and two 0.5GWe nuclear reactors. For safety, these are also housed within the same hulls as their respective engines, which are no less than 250 feet away from the Saucer Hull.
- Shielding: Space is full of harmful radiation; the only reason we're safe on Earth is due to both the atmosphere and the magnetosphere. Therefore, as with all other human-carrying spacecraft, some amount of shielding is needed once we leave Earth. The basic shielding is a combination of aluminum and plastic walls, with no less than three walls between space and any human-occupied area. He also designed a "storm shelter" at the center of the Saucer Hull that has additional shielding in case of "solar particle events" (SPE). These are all "passive" shield technologies. He hopes we can develop some sort of "active" shielding technology that will protect us in much the same way as Earth's magnetosphere.
- Spaceport and universal landers: The ship will contain three independent bays that will function as docking areas for small visiting craft. In addition, the Enterprise will be equipped with at least three universal landers -- these crafts are able to land on and take off from Earth, Mars, or the moon.
There is much, much more detail at BTE-Dan's site, BuildTheEnterprise.org. He goes into the financial needs of the project and has a 100-year roadmap to build future iterations of the Enterprise. I suggest that you go there, read what he has proposed, and ask questions or contribute to his project via his forums. Also, return here and share with us what you think about this idea.
Thanks to Toni Bowers for the tip about this site.