Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner Announce Light-Powered Nanocraft Project

Tuesday, 12 April 2016 - 10:59AM
Tuesday, 12 April 2016 - 10:59AM
Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner Announce Light-Powered Nanocraft Project
Stephen Hawking has just teamed up with Russian billionaire Yuri Milner on a $100 million project called Breakthrough Starshot, which aims to reach neighboring stars in the near future by building tiny, light sail-powered "Nanocrafts" that will search for habitable planets.

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"Earth is a wonderful place, but it might not last forever," Hawking said in a statement (via ABC News). "Sooner or later, we must look to the stars. Breakthrough Starshot is a very exciting first step on that journey."
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The project, which also has Mark Zuckerberg on the board, is working to build "ultra-light," "ultra-compact" spacecrafts that are powered by light from laser beams, inspired by the long-running solar sails theory. The gram-scale nanocraft would able to reach 20% of lightspeed (100 million km per hour), which is 1000 times faster than the fastest spacecraft today. This spacecraft is technically theoretical, but according to Milner, is "based on starship technology already available or is likely to be available in the near future."

Milner says that this ship has been made possible in recent years by three technological developments: cellphone/computing technology that could allow for StarChips, or the "Silicon Valley version of space probe": tiny sails powered by light that could be mass produced at the cost of an iPhone and sent into space to make scientific observations. Increasingly thin metamaterials, such as graphene, could help us build these light sails, and new Light Beamer technology could provide enough light power to send a small spacecraft to nearby stars. With a normal laser, the sail could only move at "about the speed of an ant," but with Light Beamer technology, a spacecraft could reach Alpha Centauri, the closest star to Earth other than our Sun, in only 20 years.

Opening quote
"For the first time in human history, we can do more than gaze at the stars, we can actually reach them," Milner said at the Breakthrough Starshot press conference, which is currently streaming. "It is time for the next great leap in human history."
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Opening quote
"With light beams, light sails, and the lightest spacecraft ever built, we can launch a mission to Alpha Centauri within a generation," said Hawking. "Today, we commit to this next great leap into the cosmos. Because we are human, and our nature is to fly."
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Science
NASA

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