150-Year Journey to Alpha Centauri Proposed
This is amazing. Humanity possesses the means to place probes into orbit around nearby stars. But do we have the patience? Interstellar travel, a timeworn staple of science fiction, can already be science fact if one has cash to spare. For just $100 million or so, a customer could actually purchase a top-of-the-line commercial rocket and ride right out of the solar system. But patience would be key. If launched tomorrow toward the nearest port of call—Proxima b, a potentially habitable Earth-mass planet recently discovered in the triple star system of Alpha Centauri about four light-years away—that rocket would take 80,000 years to arrive.
Instead of spending $100 million on a slow boat to the stars, in April of last year the billionaire entrepreneur Yuri Milner announced he would use that same sum to forge a new path to Alpha Centauri within a human lifetime. Called Breakthrough Starshot, the initiative calls for largely abandoning rockets in favor of “light sails”—gossamer-thin reflective sheets that, once unfolded in space, could be propelled to very high speeds by laser beams.
Starshot’s tentative plans involve using conventional rockets to place thousands of one-gram, four-meter-wide light sails in Earth orbit as early as the 2040s. Each sail would be embedded with a one-centimeter-wide chip containing cameras, sensors, thrusters and a battery. From Earth orbit, each featherweight spacecraft would be boosted toward Alpha Centauri at 20 percent light-speed by a minutes-long pulse from a ground-based, 100-gigawatt laser array. The interstellar crossing would take just a little over 20 years, so the probes could reach Alpha Centauri in the 2060s.
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@Mika in just 20 years?! That's mind boggling. This is what they should be focusing on instead of mars