Take off your tinfoil hats and listen to this one! Renown scientist Stephen Hawking, with the backing of Silicon Valley philanthropist Yuri Milner, has devised a theoretical space craft that can travel at 20% the speed of light. The proposed ship will be traveling faster than any craft ever devised by man and will be aimed at our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri. Let’s all hope that if any intelligent life out there somehow catches it, they’d feel benevolent enough to return our kite that landed in their backyard.
And I do mean kite. The proposed spacecraft is thin; only a few atoms thick for its solar sails. This reduces the weight of the spacecraft to just a few grams. It’s enough weight to be affected by the pressure of intense light. From the ground, they will be firing one or more high intensity 100 billion watt lasers to strike and move the nanocraft. I really did mean that this thing will be a kite, only we don’t have the strings to pull it back. This is a one way trip for the spaceship and it would travel through the Alpha Centauri star system in just a few days. Any sensors or data collection would not be able to transmit all the way back to Earth with our current technology. But that’s where the funding come in.
The Nasa Ames research centre, led by Pete Worden, will be designing this craft and would be advised by a team of distinguished engineers and scientists. As of now, they have identified at least 20 different challenges ahead of them before they can even consider flight. They are projecting that with the proper funding, we will be able to send a ship into space and out on a journey to Alpha Centauri within the next 15 years.
And that time is on our side. With the advancements of technology following the pattern of Moore’s Law, there are new advancements about every 18 months allowing for faster computer processors, more RAM, less expensive to manufacture nanotechnology, and advancement in lasers. These new technologies that have not yet been invented will be a key component in whatever space faring vessel that we send to the stars.
The project is also open source and public domain and the research is funded by the Breakthrough Starshot Initiative. They are accepting the participation of any government or organization to help assist and shape the project. No one is expecting this project to be an easy one, but some remain hopeful that they will see this spacecraft project through to completion within their lifetime.
The prospect and mere mention of near light speed travel and journeys to distant stars would make any kid or fan of science and science fiction’s ears perk up. Mankind has envisioned space travel as far back as our recorded history shows. If this project is completed within our lifetimes, what new technologies would have made this possible? Spaceships traveling to Alpha Centauri or not, with the research funded by the Breakthrough Starshot Initiative, our technological future looks bright.