Guest essay by Eric Worrall
The quest to send a physical probe to the nearest stars is heating up – renowned Physicist Stephen Hawking has teamed up with Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, to launch a laser propelled space probe at 20% of the speed of light, on a 20 year mission to physically visit the nearest stars.
According to The Guardian;
Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner launch $100m star voyage
Project to aim for sending a featherweight robotic spacecraft to the nearest star at one-fifth of the speed of light.
In an unprecedented boost for interstellar travel, the Silicon Valley philanthropist Yuri Milner and the world’s most famous cosmologist Stephen Hawking have announced $100m (£70m) for research into a 20-year voyage to the nearest stars, at one fifth of the speed of light.
Breakthrough Starshot – the third Breakthrough initiative in the past four years – will test the knowhow and technologies necessary to send a featherweight robot spacecraft to the Alpha Centauri star system, at a distance of 4.37 light years: that is, 40,000,000,000,000 kilometres or 25 trillion miles.
A 100 billion-watt laser-powered light beam would accelerate a “nanocraft” – something weighing little more than a sheet of paper and driven by a sail not much bigger than a child’s kite, fashioned from fabric only a few hundred atoms in thickness – to the three nearest stars at 60,000km a second.
Milner, a Russian-born billionaire investor who began as a physicist, was one of the founders of the Breakthrough prizes, the biggest in science, announced in 2012 and awarded for fundamental research in physics, life sciences and mathematics. Last year, he and Professor Stephen Hawking of the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at Cambridge announced another $100m Breakthrough Listen initiative to step up the search for extraterrestrial life beyond the solar system. The project has just released its first data from stars within 16 light years of Earth. The entrepreneur describes science as his “hobby.”
WUWT recently suggested that NASA should be spending money on deep space missions, including a laser propelled interstellar probe, instead of squandering their budget, replicating climate work already being performed by other government agencies.
Thankfully it now looks like wealthy private individuals have picked up the ball which NASA dropped. The first mission to the nearest star will bear the Russian flag – but at least that mission now looks likely to happen.