In the announcement of the most ambitious space exploration project yet Prof. Stephen Hawking set out a plan, with financial backing from investors such as Yuri Milner and Mark Zuckerberg, to send a spacecraft to our neighbouring star in the coming decades.
The proposal named ‘Breakthrough Starshot’, sees a $100 million investment in the development of StarChip. This is a micro-scale spacecraft with a low enough mass that one could accelerate to a reasonable fraction of the speed of light in order to conquer the vast 25 trillion miles (4.37 light years). In order to accelerate this tiny craft an array of lasers will be concentrated to provide enough radiation pressure to increase the velocity of the StarChip to 20% of the speed of light in minutes.
This voyage which would take regular spacecraft a minimum of 30,000 years to travel, could be accomplished by ‘Breakthrough Starshot’ in just 20 years. Once there the probe will have been developed to send back images of any planets it may find in the Alpha Centauri system.
There are still many hurdles to jump however, before we can launch these little voyagers off into the Universe. Most noticeable is the sheer time delay between signal received from the craft. Sending signals back at the speed of light would still require years to reach us. How such a spacecraft can be controlled at such range is yet to be seen.
Interstellar travel is a giant leap for space exploration and it starts today!