Breakthrough Starshot Project Amps Up: Ball, Brakes To Be Added Into The Interstellar Sail
Ever since Alpha Centauri was discovered, scientists have been trying to devise new ways of studying it. The Alpha Centauri star is around 4.37 light-years away from Earth, and it is expected that it will take a minimum of 20 years to reach near it.
Breakthrough Starshot project started last year is a groundbreaking initiative, which proposed the development of an extremely lightweight space probe that will use high-powered lasers to propel itself in space. While most of the members of scientific community agreed that it the most plausible spacecraft model that may help in studying Alpha Centauri, and as time is passing, each one is coming up with new ideas to better the design and also rectify the persisting issues.
The original model proposed that the probe can be tethered behind a "parachute-shaped sail," which can be easily launched into the interstellar space with the help of high-powered laser beams. Later on, it was realized that such a model is unstable and may deflect from its set course.
Furthermore, it was also realized that even if the space probe manages to reach Alpha Centauri within the set time period, but how will it slow down its speed is necessary to study it. Scientists across the world are actively engaged in finding a solution to these lacunae. Based on some of the recent publications made regarding the same, the progress is highly optimistic.
Zachary Manchester, who works as a postdoctoral fellow in Harvard University's Agile Robotics Lab, and Avi Loeb, who is also a member of the Breakthrough Starshot project, have proposed that nestling a small ball in the center of the four laser beams can help in stabilizing the design. He also mentioned that the ball can also serve the purpose of a safe hiding place for all the electronic equipment required for the functioning of the space probe, Space.com reported.
Manchester has already published his findings in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, and his proposal is gaining popularity worldwide. In a separate publication made by Rene Heller and Michael Hippke from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen, Germany, it is proposed that "photogravitational assist" can be used to decelerate the space probe when it approaches the star, Space Daily reported.
Heller and Hippke are of the opinion that the "photon pressures of the stellar triple consisting of Alpha Centauri A, Alpha Centauri B, Proxima Centauri" and the gravitational pull of the stars may be exploited "to decelerate an incoming fleet of solar sail-based craft."