Things that get me excited #1: Breakthrough Starshot

“The stars, it seems, have set strict bounds on human destiny. Until now.”

These are the words written on breakthroughinitiative’s page describing their new, most ambitious mission yet. Certainly the most exciting.  For we have been to the moon, to mars, on comets, and even beyond the reaches of our own solar system.

And now we turn to the stars.

Enter Starshot. An odyssey to our neighbors in interstellar space, Starshot’s mission is to flyby our neighboring star system Alpha Centauri (Averaging at 4.37 light years away, the star-system contains 3 stars bound together by gravity.), and send  nu pictures of its newly discovered planet: Proxima B( Note: You can read more about the habitability of the planet here), Starshot has its eyes focused on the great beyond, and over a $100 million dollars to make that dream come true.

 

 

But how does it work?

Breakthroughinitiave’s page, says that the mission “involves a ground-based LIGHT BEAMERS pushing ultra-light NANOCRAFTS – miniature space probes attached to LIGHTSAILS – to speeds of up to 100 million miles an hour.”

Which essentially means:

  1. Take a tiny spacecraft (In my mind no larger than your cell phone), and launch it into space.
  2. Attach a “lightsail“, a device propel the nanocraft with radiation pressure exerted by light.
  3. Take a high-powered laser, and shoot the lightsail.
  4. Nanocraft reaches speeds up to 1/5th the speed of light and flies by Alpha Centauri and Proxima B in 20 years.
  5. Get the data about 4.5 years later.

However, a mission as tremendously ambitious such as this requires tremendous advancements in the fields of science and technology. A whole list of challenges can be found here, but I’ll summarize them for you.

We need some things that don’t exist yet, such as:

  • Tiny electronics capable of photon thrusters, cameras, microprocessors, battery, and protective coating (So that the electronics survives the laser and radiation from interstellar space)
  • Some improvements to the lightsail such as structure and integrity under thrust
  • Breakthroughs (heh) from the laser industry to generate a 100 Gigawatts laser (This is a million times more powerful that today’s biggest continuous lasers) capable of accelerating the craft to 60,000km/s.

I recommend clicking on the hyperlinks to know more when you have the time to do so. If you want to go deeper still, you should go here.

 

Predicted timeline of events

 

Seeing how we need such an extensive number of developments, we expect to get there by sometime around 2060. That might sound like a long time, and it is, but bear in mind that this includes the time to get there, which in itself is over 20 years!

 

 

Often thinking about this mission brings a smile to my face. I envy the hardworking people who get to make this a reality. It is an incredibly poetic thing to work on something that will make its mark in history like nothing we have ever seen before. To look up at the stars and think that something you worked on with your own hands today will travel across the heavens tomorrow. There’s something oddly comforting about that thought. That’s a comfort I’d like to feel.

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