Featured Presentations

Wednesday, October 4, 2017 – Coordinated by Starship Century


Pete Worden, Executive Director, Breakthrough Initiatives

Are We Alone?–Searching For Life in the Universe

Dr. Worden will lead a talk on the work the Breakthrough Foundation is doing to help humanity investigate the possibility of life forms on other planets, and how scientists can get involved.
The Star Shot initiative—a plan to send a spacecraft to another star system in the next 25 years—will be the main topic of the presentation. Dr. Worden will also discuss the foundation’s other major initiatives: Listen and Watch. Listen is the search for extraterrestrial intelligence using RF (1 GHz to 30Ghz) and visible light. Watch is the search for earth-sized planets in the habitable zone of nearby stars.

Bio: Brig. Gen. Worden is the chairman for the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, where he runs the Breakthrough Initiatives. Previously, he has been Director of NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California, has held several positions in the United States Air Force and was research professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona, Tucson. He is a recognized expert on space issues – both civil and military. Worden has authored or co-authored more than 150 scientific papers in astrophysics, space sciences, and strategic studies. He served as a scientific co-investigator for two NASA space science missions, and received the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal for the 1994 Clementine mission. He was named the 2009 Federal Laboratory Consortium Laboratory Director of the Year.


Kevin L. G. Parkin, Parkin Research LLC

Parkin photo.png Breakthrough Star Shot System Model and Trade Studies

A constraint-based system model has been built to represent beam-driven relativistic sails.  The model is solved by inference engine and uses 1-DOF RK45 trajectory integration nested within several bisection and golden section solvers in order to minimize the capital cost of the beam director while holding fixed the sail velocity at beam cutoff.  A Goubau beam is assumed, the energy spillage of which is recalculated on every integration step, forming the core of the key tradeoff between beam director effective diameter vs. transmit power vs. sail diameter vs. beam duration.  This key tradeoff is driven by user-provided technology figures of merit for beam director areal cost ($/m^2), transmit power cost ($/Watt) and energy storage cost ($/kWh) as well as sail areal density (g/m^2) and optical properties. Since March 2016, the system model has been used to conduct parametric trade studies for a 0.2c mission to Alpha Centauri, a 0.01c precursor mission to a closer objective and a 70 km/s ground-based vacuum tunnel test facility.  The results from these trade studies are presented.

Bio: Dr. Parkin is the Systems Director of Breakthrough Star Shot, founder of Parkin Research LLC and the inventor of the microwave thermal rocket.  In 2005 he was awarded the Korolev Medal by the Russian Federation of Astronautics and Cosmonautics for his ground-breaking work in microwave thermal propulsion. In 2007, Dr. Parkin founded the Mission Design Center (MDC) at NASA Ames.  From 2009 to 2015, he was a Research Faculty member at Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley.  In this role, he served as Principal Investigator of a $5M NASA-funded project to conduct innovative research to implement a sustainable and extensible vision for space exploration in the long term.  From 2012-2014 he additionally served as Principal Investigator and Chief Engineer of a $3M DARPA-instigated project to build a small millimeter-wave thermal rocket and launch it.  This resulted in the first millimeter-wave absorbent refractory heat exchanger, the first millimeter-wave thermal rocket, and the first high power cooperative target millimeter-wave beam director.  These elements were combined to achieve the first millimeter-wave thermal rocket launch in early 2014. He is a member of the Institute of Physics (IOP) and holds an M.Phys. from the University of Leicester (1999), an M.S. from Caltech (2001) and a Ph.D. from Caltech (2006).


Robert Fugate

fugate-photo The Star Shot Propulsion System

The key concept for going to the stars in the Star Shot Project is to minimize the mass of the spacecraft by leaving the apparatus that propels the spacecraft on Earth. The force that accelerates the payload is light pressure generated by a laser system producing a controllable, coherent beam of light having an average power of the order of 100 GW. A 1-gram mass payload would experience an acceleration about 60,000 gees when subjected to the radiation pressure from this system (assuming imperfections). This talk addresses the many challenges confronting us in conceiving, designing, building, and operating such a propulsion system. Chief among these are developing a plan to coherently combine many millions of laser beams at the sail target in the presence of laser phase noise, large optical path length differences, and atmospheric refractive index fluctuations caused by turbulence, while maintaining a specified irradiance profile on the sail with sub nanoradian pointing jitter as it travels from high earth orbit to a distance equivalent to ten times the range to the Moon, all in a few hundred seconds.

Bio: Dr. Robert Q. Fugate is internationally recognized as the first to demonstrate the concept of laser guide star adaptive optics and to develop and apply needed technologies to make the concept practical on large ground-based telescopes. This technology allows researchers to overcome the limitations on image resolution set by the Earth’s atmosphere.  Dr Fugate spent over 35 years in the Air Force Research Laboratory and retired as the Senior Scientist for Atmospheric Compensation in 2006. He created the Starfire Optical Range as the premier research organization in the DoD for correcting atmospheric effects on the propagation of light.

He championed the transition of this technology from DoD to the astronomy community. From early 2006, he was the Senior Technical Advisor on the staff of New Mexico Tech and retired with Emeritus status at the end of 2011. He now serves as a part-time consultant, speaker, and advisor to the Air Force and other US Government agencies and private organizations. His latest endeavor is serving on the advisory board for Breakthrough Star Shot and as Chairman of the Laser Subcommittee.   He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, has published over 100 papers and book chapters, presented dozens of invited talks, served on numerous international astronomy and telescope committees, and has received many honors.


James Benford, Microwave Sciences

jbenford-photo Our First Starships: Sails & Payloads for Star Shot

Star Shot reduces the sail mass down to about a gram and sail scale to a few meters. The acceleration is driven by lasers with total power of 10-100 GW; accelerations are 10,000 100,000 gravities. Acceleration times are about 1-10 minutes. Constructing a laser light sail sufficient to propel a one-gram class spacecraft to 0.2c within a few decades using a laser beam director of approximately one-kilometer scale with a beam power of 10’s of GW requires thin and light-weight materials, perhaps metamaterials, meaning fabrication of meter-scale sails no more than a few hundred atoms thick. The material must be light enough yet highly reflective. Properties that influence material choice and fabrication, are its reflectance, absorptance and transmittance, tensile strength and areal density. Stability of he sail on the beam is influenced by sail shape, beam shape and the distribution of mass, such as payload, on the sail. The laser system interacts with the sail through its power density distribution on the sail, duration of the beam, width of the beam, pointing error of the beam as well as its pointing jitter.

Bio: James Benford is Sail System Director of Breakthrough Star Shot and President of Microwave Sciences, Inc. in Lafayette, California. His interests include high power microwave systems from conceptual designs to hardware, microwave source physics, electromagnetic power beaming for space propulsion, experimental intense particle beams and plasma physics. He is co-author of the textbook, High Power Microwaves, 3rd Edition (Taylor & Francis, 2016). He has a Ph.D in Physics at the University of California San Diego. He is an IEEE Fellow and an EMP Fellow.


David Messerschmitt, Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, UC Berkeley

messerschmitt-copyData Return from Star Shot Probes: Live from Alpha Centauri!

Returning scientific data from a Star Shot mission will be challenging due to many factors, including limited available energy, transmit and receive antennas, pointing accuracy, and speed. This talk examines an optical downlink communicating image data. Available energy has to be beneficially allocated among attitude control, processing, and communications functions. The profile of the available power varies widely during and after an encounter. Especially relevant is the rapidly changing distance to a target star, and the impact of this distance on available solar energy. Based on known fundamental limits, the maximum total returned data is estimated for a set of alternative assumptions. For best-available coding algorithms, energy-balance tradeoffs between processing for source and channel coding and transmitted optical power are considered. For the benefit of audience members not well versed in communications theory, we include a brief tutorial on the fundamental limits to image coding and communications. This talk reports on joint work with Philip Lubin of the University of California at Santa Barbara and Ian Morrison of Swinburne University Australia, and draws heavily on near-Earth optical communications research at Jet Propulsions Laboratory and elsewhere.

Bio: David Messerschmitt is the Roger A. Strauch Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences (EECS) at the University of California at Berkeley. The first ten years of his career was spent at Bell Laboratories, where he participated in the exploratory development of digital communications. At Berkeley he has done research in digital communications and audio and video encoding, and has served as the Chair of EECS and the Interim Dean of the School of Information. He is the co- author of five books, including Digital Communication (Kluwer Academic Publishers, Third Edition, 2004). His doctorate in Computer, Information, and Control Engineering is from the University of Michigan, and he is a Life Fellow of the IEEE, a Member of the National Academy of Engineering, and a recipient of the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal recognizing “exceptional contributions to the advancement of communication sciences and engineering”.


Thursday, October 5, 2017 – Coordinated by Tau Zero Foundation

Marc Millis, Founder, Tau Zero Foundation


Marc Millis lead NASA’s visionary “Breakthrough Propulsion Physics” project and created the milestone book, Frontiers of Propulsion Science, a compendium of scholarly research on propellantless space drives and faster-than-light flight. Earlier in his NASA career, Millis designed ion thrusters, electronic instrumentation for rockets, cryogenic propellant equipment, and even a cockpit display for free-fall aircraft flights. After 31 years with NASA, he retired in 2010 to devote full time to interstellar research and education via the Tau Zero Foundation.
Tau Zero is a place for thinking about the long-range future of space exploration. While others work on the next big thing, Tau Zero looks at emerging possibilities that could change our future. Instead of advocating a specific mission or vehicle, Tau Zero builds a foundation of reliable information from which future vehicles and missions can be created. This includes investigating ideas on the infrastructures for expanding human presence in space, launching interstellar probes, and all the way to the advancing the physics of faster-than-light flight.

TED Talk
TED Talk: Building ‘Icarus’
Amazon: Frontiers of Propulsion Science (Progress in Astronautics and Aeronautics)


Jeff Greason, Board Chairman, Tau Zero Foundation


Jeff Greason has over 25 years’ experience managing innovative technical project teams at XCOR Aerospace, Rotary Rocket and Intel Corporation, and now as CEO of Agile Aero. As president and co-founder of XCOR, he led the engineering team that developed over 14 different long-life, highly-reusable liquid-fueled rocket engines. He has also worked on a low-cost liquid propellant piston pump, and two manned reusable rocket aircraft – the EZ-Rocket and the X-Racer, which broke all previous barriers for low cost and rapid reflight of rocket vehicles with 66 successful flights between them.
Jeff is a recognized expert in reusable launch vehicle (RLV) regulations.  He has been a member of the COMSTAC RLV working group since 2000 and presently serves on the full COMSTAC, and he was integral in the first spaceport license at an airport, in Mojave, California, and the first spaceport license at a scheduled air service airport, in Midland, Texas.  He was one of the architects of the regulatory policy embodied in the 2004 Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act; following which he co-founded the trade association for the commercial space industry, now the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.  He also recently took over as Chairman of the Board at the Tau Zero foundation, a non-profit group working towards practical interstellar transportation technologies.
In 2009 he was named by the White House to a panel of independent experts that examined alternatives for advancing the United States’ human space exploration agenda. Chaired by Normal Augustine, the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee examined ongoing and planned NASA activities and present options for a safe, innovative, affordable, and sustainable human space flight program after the retirement of the space shuttle.  He has remained active in national space transportation policy and has given several widely circulated speeches on the subject.
Greason was cited by Time magazine in 2001 as one of the “Inventors of the Year” for his team’s work on the EZ-Rocket. In 2016 the National Space Society awarded him the Space Pioneer Award for Entrepreneurial Business.  Mr. Greason holds 25 U.S. patents. He graduated with honors from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and currently lives in Midland, Texas.

TED Talk: Rocket Scientist: Making Space Pay and Having Fun Doing It


Friday, October 6, 2017 – Coordinated by TVIW

Slava Turyshev, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Direct Miltipixel Imaging of an Exo-Earth with a Solar Gravitational Lens Telescope

Nature has presented us with a very powerful “instrument” that we have yet to explore and learn to use. This instrument is the Solar Gravitational Lens (SGL), which results from the ability of the gravity field of the Sun to focus light from faint, distant targets. In the near future, a modest telescope could operate on the focal line of the SGL and, using the enormous magnification power of the Lens, could provide high-resolution images and spectroscopy of a habitable exoplanet.  We discuss the imaging properties of the SGL, when the image occupies many pixels in the region near the optical axis. We discuss a mission to the SGL focal region that could provide us with direct, multi-pixel, high-resolution images and spectroscopy of a potentially habitable Earth-like exoplanet. Based on our initial studies, we find that such a mission could produce (1,000×1,000) pixels images of “Earth 2.0” at distances up to 30pc with spatial resolution of ~10 km on its surface, enough to see its surface features.  We address some aspects of mission design and spacecraft requirements, as well as capabilities needed to fly this mission in the next two decades.

Bio: Dr. Turyshev is a physicist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, whose areas of research include gravitational and fundamental physics, research in astronomy, astrophysics and planetary science. He is an expert in spacecraft navigation, solar system dynamics, satellite and lunar laser ranging, planetary research and related technology efforts spanning detectors, instruments and data analysis. Dr. Turyshev has made a number of significant accomplishments: i) successful resolution of the Pioneer anomaly; ii) development of new methods to describe performance of the long-baseline optical interferometers; iii) major improvements in the tests of general relativity; Developed several new missions and experiments to test general relativity; iv) proposed new method to describe relativistic dynamics of N-body system and spacecraft observables; v) developed new instruments and methods for lunar laser ranging including new design of a hollow laser corner-cube retroreflector instrument and new LLR techniques; v) developed a new wave-theoretical treatment of the Solar Gravitational Lens (SGL) and proposed a new mission concept of direct megapixel imaging and spectroscopy of an exoplanet from the focal area of the  SGL. Dr. Turyshev has published over 175 research papers, 2 books. Over the years, he actively participated in organization of and contribution to technical meetings, symposia, committees, industry and NASA review panels. Organized major international conferences; edited their proceedings. Since 2012 he is an Adjunct Professor at the UCLA’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. In 2016 Dr. Turyshev was elected a corresponding member of the International Academy of Astronautics.
Congressman John Culberson, R-TX

 Washington Perspectives on Interstellar Research

Bio: As Chair of the House Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee, which funds NASA, the Congressman is  focused on ensuring that NASA receives the funding and guidance necessary to maintain US leadership in space. He supports additional funding for NASA and believes it is crucial for the agency to have a clear vision that is driven by science and inspires our young people to study science and mathematics. The Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket and Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle will be critical components of our capability to return to the moon or lunar orbit, to reach Mars, and to go beyond. He authored the Space Leadership Preservation Act to make NASA more professional and less political by establishing a long-term NASA Administrator who overlaps presidential administrations, creating a board to drive the vision for NASA exploration, and allowing NASA to develop spacecraft using long term contracts.


Congressman Mo Brooks, R-AL

Washington Perspectives on Interstellar Research

Bio: As the Representative for Alabama’s 5th Congressional District the Congressman represents the people of North Alabama (including the greater Huntsville aerospace community) and serves on three important committees:  Armed Services, Science, Space, and Technology, and Foreign Affairs. After many years of White House neglect, Congressman Brooks has a renewed sense of optimism for the space program under the current Administration. Congressman Brooks strives to ensure that these programs remain on a steady path to success. He was excited to see the Trump Administration prioritize deep space exploration in its first year budget request, demonstrating that he has the full intention of challenging America’s space program to reach farther into space than ever before through the use of vehicles like the Space Launch System and Orion. Congressman Brooks knows that there is more work to do to ensure the preeminence of our nation’s space program. That is why he is committed to doing whatever is necessary to promote our nation’s space objectives via Congressional hearings, meetings, and letters to key appropriators, and will continue to monitor NASA’s progress on these critical programs.


Pontus C. Brandt, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

Humanity’s First Explicit Step in Reaching Another Star: The Interstellar Probe Mission – 200 AU Within 40 years

He has served as Senior Professional Staff Scientist at APL and the Swedish Institute of Space Physics. At APl he was responsible for analyzing the data from the HENA instrument onboard IMAGE. Dr. Brandt received his PhD in space plasma physics from the Swedish Institute of Space Physics in Kiruna, Sweden in December 1999. There he worked on the Swedish microsatellite Astrid, and the ENA imager PIPPI as well as on simulations of the Hermean magnetosphere. His projects have included observational and theoretical studies of the low-altitude ring current-upper atmosphere interaction and of ion outflow from the polar cap, Saturn’s magnetospheric dynamics and plasma interactions with Titan, energization of plasma during storms, and ring current interactions with the plasmasphere.


Lt. General Steven L. Kwast, USAF

Lt. Gen. Steven L. Kwast is Commander and President, Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. He leads the intellectual and leadership center of the U.S. Air Force, graduating more than 50,000 resident and 120,000 non-resident officers, enlisted and civilian personnel each year. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Astronautical Engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He was assigned to undergraduate pilot training where he earned his pilot wings in June 1989. General Kwast has served as military aide to the vice president and completed a National Defense Fellowship with the Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology and Policy at Boston University, Massachusetts. The general has commanded at the squadron, group and wing levels, including the 47th Operations Group at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, and the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C. General Kwast was the deputy director for Politico-Military Affairs for Europe, NATO, and Russia, Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate, Joint Staff, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C. He has more than 3,300 flying hours, including more than 650 combat hours during operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Southern Watch, Allied Force and Enduring Freedom.

Dr. Paul McConnaughey, Associate Director, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

Dr. McConnaughey earned his bachelor’s degree from Oregon State University in Corvallis, and his master’s degree and doctorate from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. After earning his doctorate, McConnaughey spent three years as a professor of soil physics and mathematics at Mississippi State University in Starkville. He joined Marshall in 1986 as an engineer in the Systems Dynamics Laboratory. In 1998, McConnaughey was named NASA’s deputy manager for the Military Spaceplane Technology Office, where he worked on space vehicle technologies of joint interest to NASA and the U.S. Air Force. In 2007 he was selected as Marshall’s chief engineer. He then served as the director of System Engineering and Integration and the chief engineer of the Exploration Systems Development Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington where he oversaw the integration of the Space Launch System, Orion spacecraft and Ground Support Development and Operations programs. For his service to NASA, he has received three NASA Exceptional Service Medals, a NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, a Center Director’s Commendation and a Certificate of Appreciation. McConnaughey also received the Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Executive in 2011, the second-highest award conferred by the president of the United States.
Paul Gilster, Author, Centauri Dreams

 Paul Gilster is a full-time writer who focuses on space technology and its implications. He is one of the founders of the Tau Zero Foundation, an organization that grew out of work begun in NASA’s Breakthrough Propulsion Physics program and now supports research into advanced propulsion for interstellar missions. Gilster is the author of seven books, including Digital Literacy (John Wiley & Sons, 1997) and Centauri Dreams: Imagining and Planning for Interstellar Flight (Copernicus, 2004), a study of the technologies that may one day make it possible to send a probe to the nearest star. He tracks ongoing developments in interstellar research from propulsion to exoplanet studies on his Centauri Dreams Web site (www.centauri-dreams.org). In past years, Gilster has contributed to numerous technology and business magazines, and has published essays, feature stories, reviews and fiction in a wide range of publications both in and out of the space and technology arena. He is a graduate of Grinnell College (IA) who performed graduate work in medieval literature at UNC-Chapel Hill before going into commercial aviation (flight instructor specializing in instrument and commercial training). He turned to full-time technology writing in 1985.

Andrew Siemion, Astrophysicist

Siemion Dr. Andrew Siemion is an astrophysicist at the University of California (UC), Berkeley and serves as Director of the UC Berkeley Center for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Research. He is jointly affiliated with The Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON), Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands and the SETI Institute, Mountain View, California. Dr. Siemion’s research interests include studies of time-variable celestial phenomena, astronomical instrumentation and SETI. Dr. Siemion is one of the leaders of the “Breakthrough Listen Initiative” – a 10 year, 100 million dollar effort, sponsored by Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Prize Foundation, that is conducting the most sensitive search for advanced extraterrestrial life in history. Dr. Siemion was a recipient of the Josephine De Kármán Fellowship for Undergraduate Studies at UC Berkeley, the UC Berkeley Dorothea Klumpke Roberts Prize for outstanding scholarship as an undergraduate major in astrophysics and the UC Berkeley Mary Elizabeth Uhl Dissertation Prize for his work on searches for exotic radio phenomena. Dr. Siemion is an elected member of the International Union of Radio Science, in which he serves as an Early Career Representative for the Commission on Radio Astronomy, and the International Academy of Astronautics’ SETI Permanent Committee, in which he serves as Committee Secretary. Dr. Siemion also serves on the Science@Cal Advisory Board, Co-Chairs the Cradle of Life Science Working Group for the forthcoming Square Kilometer Array telescope and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Investing in Research on SETI Science and Technology (FIRSST). Dr. Siemion frequently appears on international television and radio discussing the search for life beyond on Earth and the prospects for detection.