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Clarkson Student's Revolutionary Idea To Advance 21st Century Interstellar Exploration Wins Nasa Competition

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Andrew T. Bingham of Enosburg Falls, Vermont, a sophomore mechanical and aeronautical engineering major at Clarkson University, has been selected to present a concept he developed to advance interstellar space exploration as part of a national student competition sponsored by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC).abingham

NASA’s NIAC Student Visions of the Future competition invited students from around the country to submit revolutionary designs and concepts that have a potential for expanding the vision of NASA’s long-range strategic plans.

For his idea submission, “Deployment of an Interstellar Electromagnetic Acceleration System,” Bingham will receive a cash prize and travel to Seattle later this month to join other student finalists for poster presentations at the NIAC Annual Meeting. Student concepts selected by judges for further development will receive a $500 stipend for time and materials and will be invited to attend the NIAC Phase I Fellows Meeting in the spring of 2005.

Bingham, whose interest in both manned and unmanned space exploration dates back to his early childhood, submitted an idea for an interstellar electromagnetic acceleration system that would generate the propulsion capacity to launch multiple unmanned missions outside the solar system capable of returning data to earth in a reasonable amount of time.

“One night I was reading about Voyager 1 and 2 and how, after almost 25 years, they are finally nearing the end of the sun’s sphere of influence,” said Bingham. “I was pondering how we could cut that down to say five years, and use the same infrastructure to launch multiple missions that could explore the area beyond our solar system in several different directions.”

While previous deep probes have used the radioisotope power sources, Bingham’s proposal uses an external propulsion system that would take advantage of intense magnetic fields acting on the spacecraft from the outside. His system uses a series of unmanned space stations placed in planetary orbits that, in effect, become electromagnetic slingshots for the interstellar probes.

“The electromagnetic principles behind Andrew’s proposal are not new,” explained David Craig, Clarkson professor of humanities and director of the Honors Program of which Bingham is a member. “They are derivations from Maxwell’s Equations that are over 100 years old. But his application of them to power deep space probes is revolutionary. The technological breakthroughs needed to achieve Andrew’s vision are exciting, challenging and energizing; they partake of the dreams and drives that have fueled space exploration since its earliest days.”

Over the last two years, Bingham has worked on summer research projects with faculty mentor Ken Visser, Clarkson professor of mechanical and aeronautical engineering. With Visser’s encouragement, Bingham began to work on formulating ideas to submit to the NIAC’s Students Visions of the Future Program.

“Professor Visser has been invaluable throughout the process, listening to my ideas, providing feedback and pointing me toward opportunities. Professor Craig has also been instrumental by providing support, feedback and encouragement,” said Bingham.

Bingham is a member of the Honors Program. He maintains a 4.0 average and was selected as a Presidential Scholar for both semesters of his freshman year.

“Since I was young I have been working to make my dream of working in the space program a reality,” said Bingham. “When I graduate I would like to work on Project Constellation, which is NASA’s development program for the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV).  With flights slated to start in 2012-14, the CEV will replace the current National Space Transport System (shuttle) as the primary manned vehicle used by the United States. The CEV will be designed to serve as the core of a larger system capable of operating beyond the Earth’s orbit, unlike the shuttle.   

“Ultimately, I want to be part of the manned space program through the third stage of CEV operations when the vehicle can take man to Mars. This will also require the development of habitation modules and a Mars Excursion Module, and I would like to play a role in this program when it comes about. I don’t plan on retiring until humans have landed on Mars!”

Clarkson University, located in Potsdam, New York, is an independent university with a reputation for developing innovative leaders in technology-based fields. Its academically rigorous, collaborative culture involves 2,700 undergraduates and 350 graduate students in hands-on team projects, multidisciplinary research, and real-world challenges. Many faculty members achieve international recognition for their scholarship and research, and teaching is a priority at every level. For more information, visit
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