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Stephen Hawking, Yuri Milner And Mark Zuckerberg Are Building A Nanocraft Called 'Breakthrough Starshot'

First Posted: May 20, 2016 04:00 AM EDT
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Cosmologist Stephen Hawking, science philanthropist Yuri Milner and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announce a Breakthrough Starshot project that aims to establish a concept for ultra-fast light-driven nano spacecraft, which will be used on a journey to Alpha Centauri within the next generation. It is also intended for Solar System exploration and detection of asteroids that might hit the planet Earth.

This project is a $100 million research and engineering program that aims to build light-propelled nanocrafts. These are the smallest aircraft that could fly at 20 percent of light speed and can capture images of planets and other scientific data in the nearest star system called Alpha Centauri, according to Breakthrough Initiative.

The project will be led by Pete Worden, the former director of NASA AMES Research Center and directed by a group of world-class scientists and engineers. The board is composed of Mark Zuckerberg, Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking.

The star system, Alpha Centauri, is farther with about 25 trillion miles (4.37light years) away. It would take about 30,000 years to get there using the fastest spacecraft. According to Mr. Hawkins, the Breakthrough Starshot can reach the Alpha Centauri in 20 years. Breakthrough Starshot intends to establish a nanocraft on a sail pushed by a light beam that can fly over a thousand times faster.

The development of Breakthrough Starshot, its research and engineering works are expected to last a number of years. The elaboration of the mission to Alpha Centauri would also involve building a ground-based kilometer-scale light beamer at high altitude in dry conditions and capturing images of a planet and other scientific data and transmitting them back to Earth.

It also includes generating and storing a few gigawatt hours of energy launch, launching a mothership carrying thousands of nanocrafts to a high-altitude orbit and focusing the light beam on the lightsail to accelerate individual nanocrafts to the target speed within minutes.

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