Nanocraft propelled by powerful laser beam

Physicist Stephen Hawking and Russian billionaire, Yuri Milner, plan to send a spacecraft to Alpha Centauri at 20% of the speed of light.   Image credit NASA

In a joint announcement at the One World Observatory in New York City today, Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner, revealed a $100 million research and engineering program, dubbed Breakthrough Starshot, for an interstellar voyage.

By building light-propelled “nanocrafts,” that can travel at up to 20% the speed of light, the spacecraft would pass Pluto in three days and reach Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to our Solar System at 4.37 light years, in just 20 years.

The “nanocrafts,” when in orbit, would unfold thin rectangular sails and would be propelled by powerful laser beams from our planet.

Light Beamer array
The Light Beamer array that will send nanocraft to Alpha Centauri.   Credit Breakthrough Initiatives

Alpha Centauri
View of Alpha Centauri from the Digitized Sky Survey 2.   Credit wikimwdia

Yuri Milner announcing Breakthrough Starshot
Yuri Milner announcing Breakthrough Starshot, a new space exploration initiative.  Credit Breakthrough Initiatives

Breakthrough Starshot program will be led by Pete Worden, the former director of NASA AMES Research Center, and advised by a committee of world-class scientists and engineers. The board will consist of Stephen Hawking, Yuri Milner, and Mark Zuckerberg.

Ann Druyan, Freeman Dyson, Mae Jemison, Avi Loeb and Pete Worden also participated in the announcement.

Today, on the 55th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s pioneering space flight, and nearly half a century after the original ‘moonshot’, Breakthrough Starshot is launching preparations for the next great leap: to the stars.

via popsci