Stephen Hawking wants humanity to reach the stars.
The famous cosmologist, together with a group of scientists and billionaire investor Yuri Milner, presented a new, ambitious project worth $ 100 million today (April 12). It is called Breakthrough Starshot and aims to create a prototype of a tiny, lightweight, self-propelled automatic spacecraft that could visit the nearby star Alpha Centauri after traveling in just 20 years.
“The limit that confronts us at the moment is a huge emptiness between us and the stars, but now we can surpass it,” Hawking said today at a press conference here at the One World Observatory.
“With light rays, light sails and the lightest spacecraft ever built, we can launch a mission to Alpha Centauri within one generation,” he added. “Today we are committed to making this next big leap into space.” Because we are humans, and our nature is to fly. ”
The Starshot spacecraft will consist of a chip, the size of a plate, attached to a super-thin sail. This duet in pair will be launched into space aboard the mother ship, and then by self-propelled will go to the stars with the help of laser light transmitted from a high-altitude object here on Earth.
Milner said that such a ship can accelerate to 20% of the speed of light. This is enough to deliver it to the Alpha Centauri system, which lies 4, 37 light years from Earth, just two decades after launch. (A self-propelled probe would have taken about 30,000 years on such a trip.) “We call it Nanocraft,” Milner said. “Our interstellar sailboat.”
“Nanocraft can capture images of possible planets and other scientific data and send them back home through a beam of light,” Milner added. “If this mission succeeds, he will tell us a lot about his capabilities when he is near Alpha Centauri.”
“Breakthrough Starshot relies on technology that is already available, or that will be available in the near future,” Milner said, adding that all his work is based on freely available data.
The development and proof of the operation of Starshot technology takes a lot of time and money. Sending Nanocraft to Alpha Centauri will probably end up costing the same amount as the largest scientific experiments in place today, said team members.
But subsequent missions should be much cheaper, and economies of scale will allow Nanocraft to launch several sailboats on one flight in order to operate and increase the photographic coverage of the target star system. (A chip in the heart of every Nanocraft costs about the same as an iPhone for production).
Today's announcement falls on the 55th anniversary of the historic launch of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in East-1 in 1961. The mission, which opened the era of manned space flight. Milner, who was born in Moscow, said he was named after Gagarin. Today is also the 35th anniversary of the first NASA space shuttle flight, STS-1, on board Colombia. “Human history is one of the greatest leaps,” Milner said in a statement. - Fifty-five years ago, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to go into space. Today we are preparing for the next big leap - to the stars. ”
Breakthrough Starshot includes Hawking, Milner and Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook.
This is not the first time Hawking and Milner are working together: Hawking helped unleash Milner’s 10-year initiative to search for signs of intelligent life called Breakthrough Listen last July. This project, announced as the most powerful search for extraterrestrial life, will examine 1 million stars in the Milky Way. The 10-year project will also scan the 100 nearest galaxies in search of any traces of intelligent life.
Milner, meanwhile, is also funding a breakthrough Message project that will distribute $ 1 million among people who will write the best messages to send to aliens of intelligent life.