It all seems like science fiction. Get into a spaceship, pull the lever and the next thing you realize that you are halfway through the galaxies and look at another M-class planet (suitable for life). If only real life was as fun and easy as Star Trek. In reality, however, the exit from the solar system takes a long time. Look at the Voyager 1 case. Which took most of the 35 years of flight to get out of the solar system using chemical fuel and some gravitational maneuvers from the giant planets.
Philip Lubin, a researcher from the Experimental Cosmology Group at the University of California at Santa Barbara, uses funding from NASA, as well as several published papers to figure out how to solve the interstellar problem. He also wrote a recent roadmap document for the interstellar flight and is a member of the advisory committee on the recently announced Breakthrough: Starshot (throw to the stars). While his ideas are being tested in the laboratory, he believes that he can lead a mission between 20 and 30 years old, which will be the predecessor of interstellar flight.
The problem of current power plants
The main methods used today by spacecraft are chemical fuel, solar and nuclear power plants, as well as ion engines (using the pressure of charged particles). All this is enough to overcome the solar system, especially in cases where engineers use the gravitational maneuver. For example, the aforementioned Voyager-1 spacecraft flew Jupiter, Uranus, Saturn and Neptune to speed the exit from the heliosphere of the Sun. But what about the outside of the solar system? Not enough human life. "If it takes seconds to go from here to the nearest star, or a year to get to the nearest star, it satisfies us," said Lyubin. "However, if 600,000 is required, this does not suit us."
In computing, we are used to the fact that progress accelerates very quickly, said Lyubin. Semiconductor technology, for example, allows you to double the speed of operations, usually for 1, 5 -2 years. While in rocket technology there is no such rapid progress. Lyubin said that he had identified a promising technology that, at least, would allow a little movement to the thinnest spacecraft at sufficiently high speeds. As technological progress progresses, he said, he is confident that the spacecraft can move even faster than we can imagine today.
His project involves using directional laser energy to use the power of light to move a spacecraft. The benefit is that this method does not require fuel (which can be exhausted) or the Sun (which is too dim away from the Solar System). The laser unit moving the spacecraft may also be thrown overboard when it is no longer needed; it is still possible to park this unit somewhere in space to use it for another spacecraft.
Lubin compares his laser idea with supercomputers. Supercomputers use parallel processing of information by multiple processors. (On a small scale, we see this in home computers that have, say, a dual-core or quad-core processor). “Instead of one giant working, it’s better to use many processors working in parallel, which means faster work of a computer with a large number of small computers,” said Lyubin. Lasers will work in the same way. Lubin says that several relatively modest lasers can be made to work synchronously if their rays work in phase with each other. This allows you to create a small push from a single laser, which will become a very big push using several lasers. A tiny spacecraft could thus move at an incredible speed, perhaps about 20 percent of the speed of light. This makes the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, which is four light-years from Earth, accessible after 20 years. Details are given in this description of his innovative proposal of advanced concepts for NASA in 2015.
Where the laser could take us
While Alpha Centauri is relatively close to Earth, many of the exoplanet systems viewed by the Kepler space telescope are hundreds or thousands of light years away. Getting to these systems will still be prohibitively difficult, but Lubin says that he is not losing hope. Progress in the field of lasers can go so that we can not even imagine today. (A similar example would be how a computer chip made a revolution in the speed and size of computers, compared to samples of old tube ones that occupied entire laboratory rooms in the 1960s).
If, however, it becomes possible to reach the distance of the planets discovered by Kepler, then Lubin warns that there will be a last restriction: the theory of relativity. If the signal from the ship takes a second to get to the Kepler planet and another second to return to the probe, then to get from the probe to the Earth (at a distance of 2000 light years), the signal will need 2000 years, plus two seconds. A civilization that has sent off a mission may disappear by the time the spacecraft returns. Lubin does not yet know how to answer all these sociological questions, but he says that, nevertheless, lasers do offer the potential to move much faster than what we have today.