The physics of interstellar travel

For several years I have taught a Masters course at Heidelberg University looking at the physics of interstellar travel. This examines the application of known physics to the next (very) big step in spaceflight: getting to the nearest stars. It covers many topics including: orbital transfers (Hohmann, slingshot, Oberth effect); rocket equation; the space elevator; principles and design of rockets (chemical, fission, fusion, ion, antimatter); relativstic effects of high-speed travel; solar sails (principles and practice); laser sails (including physics of lasers); properties of the interstellar medium (ISM), its impact on spacecraft, and shielding against damage; the ISM/solar system boundary; navigation (esp. using pulsars); communication (radio, optical; Friis transmission equation; basics of information theory); target stars and the science to do there (stellar astrophysics; exoplanets; life); science payloads/instruments; science that can be done enroute (e.g. astrometry, ISM).

I have also published a couple of papers on this topic. The first concerns the use of the sundiver concept to accelerate a solar sail to a large escape velocity. The second looks at using a stellar catalogue to enable us to navigate autonomously within interstellar space using relatively simple measurements.