Eminent astrophysicist Professor Stephen Hawking has joined forces with science investor and philanthropist Yuri Milner to launch a revolutionary $100m “moonshot” which aims to send a miniature spacecraft hurtling across the galaxy, propelled by lasers. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has also joined the board of the organisation, known as Breakthrough Starshot.
“Breakthrough Starshot is a $100 million research and engineering program aiming to demonstrate proof of concept for light-propelled nanocrafts,” the official press release reads. “These could fly at 20 percent of light speed and capture images of possible planets and other scientific data in our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, just over 20 years after their launch.”
Breakthrough Starshot aims to send Nanocrafts – tiny robotic spaceships with a gram-scale mass and tiny lightsails, propelled using a 100 billion-watt laser – on a twenty-year journey, at one-fifth the speed of light, 25 trillion miles (4.37 light years) across the Milky Way to the Alpha Centauri star system.
The announcement coincides with the 55th Anniversary of the first orbit of the Earth by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, after whom Milner is named.
“The human story is one of great leaps,” Milner said. “55 years ago today, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. Today, we are preparing for the next great leap – to the stars.”
“Earth is a wonderful place, but it might not last forever,” added Stephen Hawking, “Sooner or later, we must look to the stars. Breakthrough Starshot is a very exciting first step on that journey.”
“We take inspiration from Vostok, Voyager, Apollo and the other great missions,” said Pete Worden, former director of NASA AMES Research Center and advisor to Breakthrough Starshot. “It’s time to open the era of interstellar flight, but we need to keep our feet on the ground to achieve this.”
Image courtesy of The Guardian.