Startup engineers Breakthrough Starshot are developing a system of powerful lasers to overclock crumbled robotic space probes up to 20% of light speed.
The project was founded in 2016 by Stephen Hawking, billionaire Yuri Milner and Astronomer Harvard University Avi Leb, and its concept relies more than 80 scientific research on interstellar travel. Starshot has already attracted $ 100 million on research and development in the first decade. In the mid-2030s, researchers plan to send about 1000 Tiny Starchip probes to the Alpha Centaur solar system, cutting them up to 20% of the light speed (60 thousand km / s).
The essence of the idea is that radiation from the laser projector, with a capacity of 100 GW, will be directed to the so-called «solar sail», which will convert energy. The mass of each chip will not exceed 1 g, and the four-meter sail is half less, because its thickness will be about 400 atoms.
The journey of cosmic probes to the neighboring star system will take 25 years and another 4 years will be required to be a signal to return to the ground, so the first photos of distant worlds we will be able to see not before the 2060s.
According to scientists, the beam will be so powerful that it will be water from any point of the galaxy, and if he accidentally affects the mirror and returns back to the ground, he can burn the whole city in a matter of minutes. At the moment, work on the project is progressing successfully and has already concluded more than 50 contracts with contractors.
However, scientists still talk about the set of obstacles that can threaten Starshot. For example, interstellar dust and gases that are able to break the sail or reject the probe from the course, a detriment may be huge temperatures and acceleration. Now the ways to solve these problems and scientists hope that in the coming decades technical achievements will help them in this.
Illustration of Starshot.
Engineers say that before distant travel, the technology will be tested within our solar system using a laser beam with a power of 1 GW, which will allow to disperse the devices up to 1% of the speed of light. The first samples will be equipped with a 10-meter «sunny sail» and will be able to fly to Mars in just a couple of days or less than a month before Jupiter. According to preliminary estimates, the cost of such launches will be much less than when sending classical research apparatus and will be calculated by thousands, and not millions of dollars.
The implementation of such ambitious project should be easier if there are sources of cheap thermonuclear energy. In this direction, scientists have advanced far enough, and recently in China «