The Astrochicken is a form of Von Neumann Probe proposed by astrophysicist Freeman Dyson. It's a one-kilogram cyborg, genetically engineered to explore our solar-system. Rather than spending huge sums of money on a single large mission, Dyson proposes building numerous smaller probes. That way, one critical technical failure doesn't derail the entire program. At such a small expense per unit, each individual astrochicken is essentially expendable and disposable. They'd spread out throughout the solar system, exploring the planets and asteroids, and report back via built-in radio transmitters.
After launch into space in a sort of "egg", the Astrochicken would actually grow its own solar collector to power its ion drive engine. For propulsion on and near planets, it would use a biological chemical rocket modeled off Bombardier Beetles, powered by the ice and hydrocarbons it could scoop from Planetary Rings. The astrochicken would be able to reproduce, building microelectronic circuits from the resources harvested, and growing the biological parts of its offspring.
Game and Story Use
- It has a little more of a fantasy feel than other Von Neumann Probes - whereas others (such as those proposed by Rodney Brooks in his paper Fast, Cheap and Out of Control: A Robot Invasion of the Solar System/) are more purely robotic, astrochicken has biological components and a funny name. That probably makes it a better fit for more humorous games, or for games with civilizations approaching sufficiently advanced technology.
- And taking that fantasy feel a step further, a wizard or alchemist could simplify exploration of a newly discovered continent, lost world, or plane of existence by sending out self-replicating elemental or golem explorers. The first one would be expensive, but then they'd build themselves in The New World.
- An all-Dyson scenario might have astrochickens nesting in Dyson Trees (or populating a Dyson Sphere).
- An army of out-of-control astrochickens could be a much funnier version of the "Replicators" from Stargate SG-1.