The Breakthrough Starshot Program Aims to Send ‘Nanocrafts’ to Alpha Centauri

The final destination? Alpha Centauri.

Today, Russian Billionaire Yuri Milner and physicist Stephen Hawking announced a plan that could lead to an interstellar voyage. The goal is to reach our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, in a 20-year, 25 trillion-mile journey. Using current rocket technology the trip would take tens of thousands of years, so the Breakthrough Starshot plan is to make the journey using tiny robotic spacecrafts. “The Breakthrough concept is based on technology either already available or likely to be available in the near future,” Milner said. “But as with any moonshot, there are major hurdles to be solved.”

The Breakthrough Starshot program aims to create a proof of concept for a “nanocraft,” a space probe that could be propelled into outer space by a light beam. The nanocraft would weigh only a few grams but would have full communication and navigation equipment, cameras and processing power. A thousand probes would be released into space by a mother ship where they’d unfold sails and journey 4.37 light years powered by laser beams sent from Earth.

The Breakthrough Starshot initiative is intended to be an international collaboration with open access and data. The project will be led by the former director of NASA’s AMES Research Center, Pete Worden, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will join Hawking and Milner on its board of directors. Milner, who is 54-years-old and has invested $100 million in the project, hopes to see the launch happen in his lifetime. “We are launching a collaborative planetary endeavor,” Milner said. “Only by challenging ourselves can we find out if we, like the pioneers before us, have the ability and ambition to succeed.”

Screenshot via (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

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