Stephen Hawking, NASA Working On Nano-Starship That Can Travel 1/5 The Speed Of Light

First Posted: Dec 12, 2016 06:23 AM EST

A couple of months ago, a team of scientists including Stephen Hawking announced an interesting project to explore interstellar space with the use of laser to propel a nano-spacecraft. The size of the spacecraft was reportedly similar to that of a postage stamp to our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri.

According to Science Alert, researchers at NASA and the Korea Institute of Science and Technology said that the problem for Hawking's Breakthrough Starshot project is radiation.

Just like it does bad things to astronaut's bodies, the high-energy radiation in space would also bring about serious defects in a nano-spacecraft chip's silicon dioxide layer. This means that the components would fail to be functional long before the 20-year voyage was up.

NASA proposed a number of options to pursue in the development stages of the project. They presented their findings at the International Electron Devices Meeting in San Francisco this week.

First, adjust the route of the flight to avoid those high-radiation areas. However, that could add years to the voyage and would not necessarily protect the ship from degradation, The Independent reported.

They also proposed that the ship could be built with protective shielding on the electronics. Adding shield to the ship would add to the size and weight and thus slow down the remarkable speed of the craft.

Finally, NASA researchers suggested a silicon chip that would automatically repair itself. "On-chip healing has been around for many, many years," NASA researcher Jin-Woo Han told Richard Stevenson at IEEE Spectrum.

However, the research is only theoretical. Therefore, researchers have significant work to do to address other major problems in interstellar travel.

"The limit that confronts us now is the great void between us and the stars," Mr. Hawking said in April. "But now we can transcend it. With light beams, light sails, and the lightest spacecraft ever built, we can launch a mission to Alpha Centauri within a generation. 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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