Can Stephen Hawking’s Starshot Probes Really Make It To Alpha Centauri?

0
204

#Space #StephenHawkingCan Stephen Hawking’s Starshot Probes Really Make It To Alpha Centauri? : Astronomers have discovered a possible Earth-like world called Proxima b in the Alpha Centauri system and Stephen Hawking’s Starshot probes may go fast enough to cover the distance, but they might not survive the journey.

The Breakthrough Starshot project plans to launch a fleet of wafer-thin nanocraft capable of reaching 20 percent the speed of light, which means they would reach the Earth-like planet in about 25 years. The problem is that when they travel that fast even a speck of dust can be a major issue.

At one-fifth the speed of light, even a single grain of space dust a hundredth of a millimeter wide could completely destroy the nanocraft, Harvard University’s Avi Loeb told New Scientist. “Reality comes back to bite you if you try to ignore it.”

Hawking’s Starshot project aims to launch a fleet of wafer-thin nanocraft into space and accelerate them to 20 percent the speed of light using a special light sail. The sail, which would be about 12 feet across, is designed to catch light beamed from powerful ground based lasers back on Earth.

Starshot engineers plan to aim their nanocraft, dubbed wafersats because they’re basically just small circuit boards, at the newly discovered Earth-like world in the Alpha Centauri system so they can send back images of the planet. Billionaire Yuri Milner announced a $100 million donation to fund basic research into the project, but a full interstellar mission is likely to cost many billions.

Loeb, who heads Milner’s team, has identified 20 challenges to the mission including interstellar space dust and the amount of information the tiny devices would be capable of sending back to Earth, reports New Scientist. “We did a thorough analysis, taking all the relevant physics into consideration. We didn’t see any showstoppers.”