Arcturus Landing by Gordon R. Dickson 1978
Ever since Earth's first starship crept out on sublight drive a hundred years ago and was met by an emissary of the Galactic Federation, man has lived as a prisoner in the solar system.
The Federation decreed that unless man could demonstrate his technological maturity and leave the solar system via a faster-than-light drive, he would not leave it at all.
All Earth knows the test that man must pass to win Galactic Citizenship and the freedom of the stars; the FTL drive is every physicist's top priority. But what they cannot know is that they work against both an alien time-limit and human sabotage - and time is running out.
Unless John Parent's star-drive project is successful, mankind will remain trapped in the solar system, forever...