Interstellar Precursor Missions: BIS West Midlands Talks

The West Midlands Branch


Interstellar Precursor Missions By Rob Swinney of the Institute for Interstellar Studies

Speaker:       Rob Swinney

Date:              Saturday 26th September 2020

Start Time:   14:00

End Time:     15:15

Venue:          via Zoom



“Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

If we agree that interstellar missions will be difficult because of the huge distances, then what are the outward steps we might take before we go fully ‘Interstellar’? Rob Swinney will describe what is meant by an ‘interstellar precursor mission’ and look at the basic requirements that need to be met. He will consider the details of several potential missions that might happen in the near term (in about the career lifetime of a scientist) and outline important science justifications and other important considerations required if they are to go ahead.

Speaker – Robert Swinney BSc MSc CEng MIET FBIS RAF (ret’d)

In the 1980s Rob Swinney completed his BSc in Astrophysics at the University of Newcastle and his MSc in Radio Astronomy at the University of Manchester. After several years teaching Craft, Design and Technology at Sherborne School for Boys he returned to his studies and graduated from Cranfield University with a further MSc in Avionics and then undertook a rewarding career in the RAF as an aerosystems engineering officer. He completed his commission in 2006 having attained the rank of squadron leader.

Rob is a Chartered Engineer, a Member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and a Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society. His early student research was published in Nature and The Astrophysical Journal and later work in the Journal of the BIS. He was one of the first to join the BIS design study for an interstellar probe, Project Icarus and he is the current Project Leader. His interstellar work often features as an elective part of the masters course at the International Space University in Strasbourg and also the occasional ‘Starship Engineer’ courses, sometimes held at the British Interplanetary Society Headquarters. He is co-founder and currently Director Academy of the Initiative for Interstellar Studies and is a lifetime member and former director of the US non-profit organisation, Icarus Interstellar.

As a youngster Rob followed closely the Apollo adventure and the Grand Tours of the Voyager spacecraft. Today, he believes the ‘planets are aligning’ again, and organisations like the Initiative for Interstellar Studies, Breakthrough Initiatives and, of course, the British Interplanetary Society and will prove that although extraordinarily difficult, real steps to interstellar travel are being taken.



  • 13:55 – The meeting is available to join
  • 14:00 – Welcome
  • 14:05- Interstellar Precursor Missions By Rob Swinney of the Institute for Interstellar Studies
  • 14:35 – Questions and Answers (we enable everyone’s microphone to allow an interactive Q&A session)

So, here’s the Plan/Joining Instructions!

  1. Register for the Talk using the link below
  3. Before the event, we will send you an email with the joining link for the meeting.
  4. On the day, click meeting link (and follow the on-screen instructions to install Zoom if prompted)


Please Note

The Conference Call and Q & A sessions will be recorded (which may capture your name, picture, voice or video) and made available via the West Midlands Facebook group and possibly via the BIS HQ website. You consent to this by registering for the Conference Call/Q & A sessions.

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