Stephen Hawking just revealed his most ambitious project for the Breakthrough Initiative: the StarShot. Hawking teamed up with Mark Zuckerberg, Pete Worden, who is an ex-NASA research director, and the Russian billionaire Yuri Milner to make space travelling a dream that may come true in a near future.
The project consist on using laser propulsion to send tiny spaceships to the Alpha Centauri star system in just 20 years, as opposed to 30,000 as it was thought before, using the solar sail concept to create a “laser sail”-based spacecraft. The Alpha Centauri is the closest star system to the Earth.
In theory, we could use current technology and extraordinarily low-mass spaceships to start finding life somewhere, in this case, on the Alpha Centauri star system.
StarShot: the smallest and fastest spaceship?
The spacecraft which will measure the size of a modern smartphone will be able to travel about trillions of kilometers over duration of 30,000 years as part of an audacious $130 million project to our closest stars. This would get the StarChips (our small-mass spaceship) to be traveling at about 20 percent of the speed of light enabling them to reach Alpha Centauri in just over 20 years.
But what are the advantages of this? First, the majority of power/energy used for this doesn’t come from one-time-only use rocket fuel, but with energy from lasers, which can be recharged that’s a really huge advantage.
Also the mass of the starchip spaceships will be incredibly low, so that means that it can be accelerated to very fast (close to the speed-of-light) speeds.
And finally, with the advent of miniaturization in electronics and ultra-strong, lightweight materials, we can actually create usable devices and send them light years away.
Using “infinite” energy from the lasers, small spaceships and high-resistant lightweight materials could make the StarShot something possible.
Vacations in the stars?
Many serious scientists are on board with this concept as well, as the technology is developing rapidly. Since nanomaterials are becoming better every day that passes by, it’s actually realistic to expect that we could build a one-gram sail that’s a square meter in surface area, capable of standing up to the laser fire and reflecting it.
One of the great recent advances in laser technology is the ability to couple many small lasers into a large laser array, allowing them to all focus on a single concentrated laser with really more power.
Source: Herald Scotland