Humans Reaching a Star in 30 Years: Project Breakthrough Starshot

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Project Breakthrough Starshot

Breakthrough Initiatives announced in 2016 their plans to send microships to Proxima Centauri B, the closest star to our solar system. If successful, the project will reach a total distance of about 4.5 light years in an estimated 20-30 years.

Project Breakthrough Starshot was first announced by physicist Yuri Milner and scientist Steven Hawking, in New York on April 12, 2016. The project was given $100 million to begin research, but the estimated final cost is between $5-10 billion. They gave their plans to send about a thousand microships with square sails (approximately 4m × 4m), with the primary goal to Proxima Centauri B, and secondary goals to explore the Solar System.

The Concept

  • A mothership will be launched into Earth’s Orbit carrying 1,000 microships. Each microship would be on a scale of only a few grams and centimeters.
  • The microships would then be one by one launched into orbit, carrying a square sail 4m × 4m.
  • The ships would travel by light propulsion, where 1,000 lasers would project onto the sails and launch them to a maximum a speed of 100 km/s towards the Alpha Centauri System. The laser system would take up 100 GW of energy.
  • At a rate about 15% to 20% the speed of light, the ships will reach a distance of 4.37 light years in 20-30 years.

Light propulsion technology is a massive breakthrough for the scientific community surrounding space exploration. The fastest man-made ship in orbit, Voyager 1, only travels at 0.000059% the speed of light, which puts Project Breakthrough Starshot 3,000 times faster than Voyager. The Voyager 1 probe cannot even leave the solar system for 30,000 years, but the technology behind this project will dramatically increase the process for observing another star. Equipped with a camera, computer, and communications laser, the microships could send a message back to Earth in 4 years. This sets the project on track to reach a star before the end of the century.

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