Stephen Hawking’s Project Will Send Probes to Alpha Centauri
Regular spacecraft would take more than 30,000 years to traverse the 4.37 light-years (25 trillion miles) to Alpha Centauri, but this nanocraft could complete the same journey in just 20 years, returning images and data to Earth of planets in the Alpha Centauri system.
Alpha Centauri is over 4 light-years away, or about 25.6 trillion miles away, but Milner is investing $100 million in a research project called “Starshot” to send a probe to Alpha Centauri, and he thinks we could do it in 20 years.
On April 12 famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and billionaire entrepreneur and investor Yuri Milner announced an ambitious plan to send a probe to our nearest star, Alpha Centauri, within a generation.
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Each tiny craft will have a light sail that could hitch a ride on powerful laser pulses shot from Earth. Each pulse would give the nanocraft a boost. Eventually, they could accelerate to relativistic speeds inside the vacuum of space.
The fleet of spacecraft won’t have any means to slow down, though. It’ll need to do a fly-by of Alpha Centauri, snapping some photos and taking some data like probing molecules and measuring magnetic fields as it whizzes past.
“There are many challenges, but we don’t see any show stoppers based on fundamental physics principles,” Avi Loeb, an astronomer at Harvard who is involved with the mission, said at the press conference.
This is a truly revolutionary means of propulsion, which Hawking said we desperately need.
“Without new methods of propulsion, we simply cannot get very far unless we are prepared to spend thousands of years in flight,” Hawking said.
The date of the announcement is significant: April 12 is the 55th anniversary of the first-ever human spaceflight by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961. We’ve come along way since then, Hawking said, and it’s time for humans to take the next step in space exploration.
“What makes us unique is transcending our limits,” Hawking said at the press conference. “We can launch a mission to Alpha Centauri within a generation.”