TVIW Symposium on The Power of Synergy

TVIW Special Symposium on The Power of Synergy

Oak Ridge, October 23-25, 2018

The Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop hosted a special Symposium at the Y-12 New Hope Center in Oak Ridge, TN that promoted safe, fast, and affordable human development of our solar system – the first real steps to becoming an interstellar civilization. Leaders from NASA, DOE ARPA-E, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Y-12 National Security Complex, and several private companies convened to evaluate how, within a decade, breakthrough technologies can greatly accelerate establishment of permanent colonies on the moon and the first human trips to Mars and asteroids. The Power of Synergy implemented a synergistic approach to space advocacy, using the symposium to link together critical technologies that will catalyze major human space activities by 2030.

Technology Drivers

Currently there is a growing belief within private industry and NASA that nuclear power and propulsion are essential for safe and efficient space development. Unless the national spirit of adventure and exploration that characterized the US space program from 1957 through 1970 can be revived, however, our next steps for human participation will proceed excruciatingly slowly, if at all. Instrumented research is proceeding, but movement of large numbers of humans beyond low earth orbit is still widely regarded as expensive, dangerous, and (given the great distances, long durations, and limitations of chemical rockets) not worth the effort. There is little understanding that technologies already exist that can enable dramatically more powerful energy sources and rockets, while making space development safe and profitable for humans. If combined synergistically with other breakthrough concepts, these technologies will greatly accelerate human progress in space. Proving this is our central motivation.


Since 2011, TVIW has hosted five Symposia that have considered a wide spectrum of technologies and initiatives that might eventually contribute to interstellar exploration. Building upon that legacy, The Power of Synergy Symposium advocated aggressive near-term goals for accelerated space development, emphasizing how government and private industry capabilities can catalyze breakthrough progress.  We need to take serious first steps to move humanity into space, first for cislunar development, then to Mars and our solar system, and ultimately interstellar. This can be catalyzed by synergistic combining of unique, already mature technologies. The Power of Synergy proposed a unified program concept, showing how seven key technologies can be coupled synergistically to enable mankind to escape the bounds of Earth within a decade.


TVIW Symposia have always taken themes from the symposium venues. Past Oak Ridge symposia have focused on advanced computing facilities and advanced nuclear technologies such as fission reactors and particle accelerators. Huntsville symposia have focused on local space-related technologies, exhibits and facilities. The Chattanooga symposium met in a traditional railroad town, and the theme was “From Iron Horse to Starship”.

Not emphasized in our past symposia, however, was the legacy of huge game-changing contributions to national and world progress already enabled by Tennessee Valley initiatives. Historic examples having unique importance that changed world history are still quite visible: Creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) triggered development of the national electric power grid in a decade, beginning in 1933 with the construction of Norris Dam near Oak Ridge. The 1942-45 Manhattan Project, centered in Oak Ridge, developed the first industrial scale nuclear reactors and the isotope separation methods that enabled nuclear weapons and won World War II. And, down the Tennessee River valley in Huntsville, Alabama, the development of the Saturn rockets got us to the moon in 1968. The infrastructures resulting from these great projects still exist, but a marvelous future demands that new ones must be made to happen now.

The Power of Synergy symposium met again in Oak Ridge, but this time, the focus was on accomplishing transformative projects through synergistic combinations of technologies that are primed for development. For example, the vast capabilities of Oak Ridge National Lab and the Y-12 National Security Complex can rapidly lead to breakthrough nuclear reactors for space propulsion and power. The very advanced ORNL 3D printing initiative has already created manufacturing of full-sized self-driving vehicles with technologies that can open new frontiers of space industrialization using regolith dust on the moon or materials readily harvestable from near-earth asteroids. And the industrialization of superconducting magnetic materials can open new horizons for highly efficient space systems. The symposium showed how combinations of these capabilities can greatly accelerate space development.

The Power of Synergy can link DOE, NASA, and formerly classified DOD technologies to get humanity into space quickly, and hasten instruments to the stars.