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  • Mission to Alpha Centauri

    Starchips instead of Starships...
    Breakthrough Starshot announces plans to send ship to Alpha Centauri
    Mini-spacecraft would be accelerated with laser-driven light sails.


    by John Timmer - Apr 12, 2016

    NEW YORK CITY—The top of the new World Trade Center building was buried inside the clouds, but everyone's focus was on the stars. Yuri Milner, the man whose investments have helped fund the Breakthrough Prizes and Breakthrough Initiatives, was here to announce his newest venture: Breakthrough Starshot, an effort to send hardware to the nearest stars quickly enough for many of us to live to see their arrival.

    Present to back the project was physicist Stephen Hawking. "I believe what makes us unique is transcending our limits," Hawking told the audience. "Gravity pins us to the ground, but I just flew to America."

    He went on to ask, "How do we transcend these limits? With our minds and our machines. The limit that confronts us now is the great void between us and the stars. But now we can transcend it."

    On hand for the announcement was a group that any geeks would consider an all-star cast: physicist Freeman Dyson, Ann Druyan, the woman behind COSMOS, Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb, astronaut Mae Jemison, and former NASA researcher Pete Worden, who will lead the project.

    [...]

    Breakthrough Starshot plans to build what's essentially a spacecraft on a chip, which Milner called a nanocraft. A gram-scale wafer will include "cameras, photon thrusters, power supply, navigation and communication equipment." The technology behind the power supply wasn't mentioned; communications at these distances will require something with pretty considerable power, even when using the optical communication that Breakthrough Starshot plans to rely on.

    Each device would cost roughly the same as a high-end smartphone to make, allowing a massive number to be sent on the journey, providing some significant redundancy. Milner held up an early prototype during the announcement.

    Propulsion will be outsourced to a facility on Earth. The small spacecraft will be equipped with a light sail, and a phased array of lasers in the 100GW range will provide the sail with enough push to get the craft moving at roughly 20 percent the speed of light in just a matter of minutes.

    [...]

    http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/...lpha-centauri/
    Watts Up With That? | The world's most viewed site on global warming and climate change.

  • #2
    Similar ideas were being suggested by various hard SF writers more than 20 years ago. The concept of a laser powered light sail is even older
    Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
    Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

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    • #3
      Originally posted by MarkV View Post
      Similar ideas were being suggested by various hard SF writers more than 20 years ago. The concept of a laser powered light sail is even older

      these people are not just talking about it, it would seem.
      "Ask not what your country can do for you"

      Left wing, Right Wing same bird that they are killing.

      you’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Half Pint John View Post
        these people are not just talking about it, it would seem.
        Given that any laser and its power source will have to be located outside the atmosphere (in orbit or, preferably on the moon) and will be massive I'd love to see more evidence of that.
        Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
        Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by MarkV View Post
          Given that any laser and its power source will have to be located outside the atmosphere (in orbit or, preferably on the moon) and will be massive I'd love to see more evidence of that.
          These folks are at least talking about spending money on the project... $100 billion.

          The most expensive bit would be the laser array. It absolutely would have to be located outside of the atmosphere to work. Maybe an L5 orbit.
          Watts Up With That? | The world's most viewed site on global warming and climate change.

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          • #6
            Will any of the scientists still be alive when it finally gets there?

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            • #7
              Yea, like we need to go to Alpha Centuri when we can't even get our collective $h!+ together to colonize the Moon or Mars...

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              • #8
                Originally posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
                Yea, like we need to go to Alpha Centuri when we can't even get our collective $h!+ together to colonize the Moon or Mars...
                To be able to do it mankind needs to be able to develop practical ways of lifting large amounts of kit out of the Earth's gravity well at a cost per ton much lower than can be done today which is exactly what we need to be able to do to set up permanent habitats on the Moon or Mars.

                Putting the lasers at L5 probably not a good idea as the Lagrange points tend to have a lot of dust floating around that would reduce the efficiency of the laser. The lunar surface probably better. In this case setting up on the Moon is not an alternative to such a project but an essential preliminary step. Lasers on the moon would offer big advantages as light sails could also be utilised to send larger craft about the solar system.

                However using a light sail to boost a probe to about 0.3 LS as suggested doesn't answer the problem that you have no way of decelerating when it reaches its destination.
                Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
                Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

                Comment

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