Breakthrough Starshot wants to send a nanocraft to Alpha Centauri

Space certainly lives up to its name with vast distances that we need to travel to reach anything inside or outside our solar system. It's over 230,000 miles from the Earth to the moon and takes days for a spacecraft to reach it. A group called Breakthrough Initiatives wants to devise a tiny spacecraft called the nanocraft and send it to Alpha Centauri, the closest star outside our solar system, and they think they have a plan to get the tiny nanocraft to the star about 20 years after it launches.

The research and engineering program called Breakthrough Starshot is funded with $100 million and the plan is to accelerate the tiny nanocraft to 20% of light speed for the 4.37 light year journey to Alpha Centauri, about 25 trillion miles away. With the fastest spacecraft available today it would take 30,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri.

The Nanocraft are gram-scale robotic spacecraft that have a StarChip inside and a Lightsail. The StarChip is a gram-scale wafer that has on it cameras, photon thrusters, power supply, navigation, and communication equipment making a tiny, full-scale space probe. The Lightsail is something common in science fiction and in this mission would be a meter-scale sail that is a few hundred atoms thick at a gram-scale mass.

The other component of the Breakthrough Starshot is the Light Beamer. It would be a phased array of laser scaled up to the 100-gigawatt level. The idea is to make the StarChip in massive numbers at about the cost of an iPhone and send them on missions in large numbers for redundancy and coverage. Once the tech has matured, the team thinks that a launch using the system would cost a few hundred thousand dollars.

It's worth noting that some of the board members of the Breakthrough Starshot are world famous scientists and this is a serious mission. The board includes Stephen Hawking, Professor, Dennis Stanton Avery and Sally Tsui Wong-Avery Director of Research at the University of Cambridge, Yuri Milner, Founder of DST Global, and Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO, Facebook.

SOURCE: Breakthrough Initatives