Project Icarus

Project Icarus

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This article is about the MIT projects. For the interstellar probe design study, see Project Icarus (Interstellar Probe Design Study). For mental health project, see Icarus Project.

Project Icarus refers to three unrelated projects. Two at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1967 and one current international effort between the Tau Zero Foundation and the British Interplanetary Society (BIS).




The first “Project Icarus” was conducted in the spring of 1967. It was an assignment by Professor Paul Sandorff for a group of MIT graduate students to design a way to deflect an Apollo asteroid, 1566 Icarus, found to be on a collision course with planet Earth, using rockets.[1][2][3]

This later served as the basis for the 1979 film Meteor.[4][3]


The second “Project Icarus” was an experiment in 2009 to launch a camera into the stratosphere undertaken by MIT students, Justin Lee and Oliver Yeh.[5]

The launch vehicle consisted of a weather balloon filled with helium and a styrofoam beer cooler that hung underneath the balloon. Inside the cooler was a Canon A470 compact camera, hacked using the Canon Hacker’s Development Kit open-source firmware to shoot pictures in five second intervals. To keep the temperature of the batteries high enough for the camera to work it was heated by instant hand warmers. In order to keep track of the vehicle’s location a prepaid GPS-equipped cellphone was included.[5]

The launch occurred in Sturbridge, Massachusetts at 11:45 am on September 2, 2009. The device traveled to around 93,000 feet (28 km) before free falling back to earth. It was eventually recovered inWorcester, Massachusetts. The mission was a success, and the pictures were retrieved. The project cost only $148.[5]

“We looked at these photographs and thought wow, these are beautiful—this is artwork,” said Lee. “This inspired us to sit down and really think deep about the relationships between science and art.”[6]

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the launch was legal because the payload was under 4 pounds (1.8 kg). However, they advised anyone interested in a future launch to contact the federal agency beforehand.[7]

The MIT students were not the first to take pictures of the earth using helium balloons, but this experiment is noteworthy because it used inexpensive consumer products and did not require specialized hardware.[7]

[edit]2009 – 2014

The current “Project Icarus” is a five year volunteer theoretical engineering study to design an interstellar spacecraft. Inspired by Project Daedalus, Project Icarus was launched on September 30th 2009.

Project Icarus has a three fold purpose:[citation needed]

  • motivate a new generation of scientists to design extra-solar space missions.
  • generate interest in real prospects for interstellar precursor missions.
  • “design a credible interstellar probe that is a concept design for a potential mission in the coming centuries so as to allow a direct technology comparison with Daedalus and to provide an assessment of the maturity of fusion based space propulsion for future precursor missions.”

The objective of Icarus will produce “a completed set of technical reports which describe the engineering layout, functionality, physics, operation, expected performance and mission profile of an unmanned interstellar probe.”[citation needed]

Project Icarus is currently seeking qualified volunteers.[citation needed]

[edit]See also


  1. ^ Kleiman Louis A., Project Icarus: an MIT Student Project in Systems Engineering, Cambridge, Massachusetts : MIT Press, 1968
  2. ^ “Systems Engineering: Avoiding an Asteroid”, Time Magazine, June 16, 1967.
  3. a b Day, Dwayne A., “Giant bombs on giant rockets: Project Icarus”The Space Review, Monday, July 5, 2004
  4. ^ “MIT Course precept for movie”The Tech, MIT, October 30, 1979
  5. a b c The $150 Space Camera: MIT Students Beat NASA On Beer-Money Budget, Wired, September 15, 2009
  6. ^ MIT Students Take Space Photos on $150 Budget –
  7. a b Bellevue grad, MIT student uses helium balloon to capture near-space photos, Seattle Times

[edit]External links