Humans Reaching a Star in 30 Years: Project Breakthrough Starshot

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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