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Space & Astronomy

Can we fly to another star within 30 years ?

April 12, 2016 | Comment icon 136 comments



Can a miniature spacecraft reach Alpha Centauri in 30 years ? Image Credit: NASA
An ambitious new project is aiming to make interstellar travel a reality within just three decades.
Launched by billionaire Yuri Milner and supported by Professor Stephen Hawking and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the $100 million project aims to send miniature spacecraft the size of a computer chip across trillions of miles of space to neighboring solar systems.

Using current technology it would take over 30,000 years to reach the nearest star Alpha Centauri, but by scaling down the size of a spacecraft and by using a powerful laser to give it a push up to 20% of the speed of light, this figure could be feasibly reduced to as little as 30 years.

There is still a long way to go - especially in miniaturizing all the components the spacecraft would need including cameras, sensors and other instruments - but with enough research and funding there is confidence that achieving something like this may actually be possible.
"The human story is one of great leaps," said Milner. "Fifty-five years ago today, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. Today, we are preparing for the next great leap - to the stars."

Professor Andrew Coates of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory has also weighed in on the idea by indicating that while difficult, sending a miniature spacecraft to the stars would not be impossible.

"There would be significant difficulties to solve such as ruggedisation for the space radiation and dust environment, instrument sensitivity, interaction of the high power accelerating laser with the Earth's atmosphere, spacecraft stabilisation and power provision," he said.

"But it is a concept worth looking at to see if we could really reach another star system within a human lifetime."

Source: BBC News | Comments (136)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #127 Posted by Derek Willis 6 years ago
You have rather hit the nail on the head there. Daniel doesn't understand maths at all, but rather than learn or simply accept this fact he argues on regardless. A very good example of this was when he falsely claimed that the reason that SpaceShipOne was launched from altitude was because of the reduction in gravity it would experience (not a theme emerging about Daniel's understanding of how gravity works?) I showed him the equation. I solved it for him. I mathematically proved him wrong. Despite this mathematical proof he continued to insist he was correct. Daniel has no grasp of basic scie... [More]
Comment icon #128 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 6 years ago
I was a chemist and did some fairly stupid things. The fact that, unlike some people I have worked with, I still have all my fingers suggests I learnt something.
Comment icon #129 Posted by Lilly 6 years ago
He called those human math, but those are universal. Aliens aren't going to figure out some other kind of way to figure Force. It will be mass times acceleration for them also. Exactly, this is why math is sometimes referred as a universal 'language'. Some things simply *are* and trying to say that such are only human expressions is just plain inaccurate.
Comment icon #130 Posted by Merc14 6 years ago
I think the Brain Cox video and footage from Apollo 15, with the childlike glee shown by all who participated in the experiment, shows that even when you know the math and understand it completely, as all those folks obviously did, it is still somewhat magical to see it in action. It reminds me of the Big Bang Theory episode when they bounced a laser off the reflector left by Apollo and all high-fived and danced around when the light returned exactly on time. PS: yes I know that the experiment, as shown on the TV episode, would most likely not have worked http://scienceblogs.com/builtonfacts/2... [More]
Comment icon #131 Posted by Einsteinium 6 years ago
I am simply looking at the rates at which various technologies have been miniaturized over the last few decades. For example, I have no doubts at all that due to the remarkably consistent Moore's Law the electronics will reduce adequately. However, I don't believe all the systems required in a space probe are capable of similarly extreme reductions. The one gram probe will have a thruster of some sort and that, I believe, will be impossible to reduce to something like a quarter of a gram. Of course, the thrust would be tiny, but it would still require a mechanical system of some sort. Or, if a... [More]
Comment icon #132 Posted by Derek Willis 6 years ago
The Smithsonian article says 60,000 G's which is a lot less what I calculated. My calculation was incorrect I went back and did the math again. They did not state what time period they used in their calculation to reach 60,000 G's but accelerating at 600,000 m/s2 would mean: acceleration=final speed-initial speed/time 600,000 m/s2 = (5.996e+7m/s - 0m/s) / time - time= 99.93 seconds, far less than 10 minutes. If the acceleration was over a 10 minute period then the acceleration would only be 99,933 m/s2 or 9,993 G's 10,000 g is a certainly a great deal less than the earlier figures. It may well... [More]
Comment icon #133 Posted by DieChecker 6 years ago
The Smithsonian article says 60,000 G's which is a lot less what I calculated. My calculation was incorrect I went back and did the math again. They did not state what time period they used in their calculation to reach 60,000 G's but accelerating at 600,000 m/s2 would mean: acceleration=final speed-initial speed/time 600,000 m/s2 = (5.996e+7m/s - 0m/s) / time - time= 99.93 seconds, far less than 10 minutes. If the acceleration was over a 10 minute period then the acceleration would only be 99,933 m/s2 or 9,993 G's Smithsonian article said two minutes. Earlier post
Comment icon #134 Posted by toast 6 years ago
10,000 g is a certainly a great deal less than the earlier figures. It may well be possible to build a tiny probe that could withstand an acceleration of that magnitude, assuming of course all the systems could be miniaturized. But, tiny device have tiny and weak structures so I dont think that just miniaturization might extenuate the negative effects of acceleration on high-g accelerated devices.
Comment icon #135 Posted by Derek Willis 6 years ago
But, tiny device have tiny and weak structures so I dont think that just miniaturization might extenuate the negative effects of acceleration on high-g accelerated devices. You will see from my postings that I am very skeptical about the whole notion of these tiny space probes. However, small objects such as bullets are able to withstand very large g-forces, so I was suggesting that at 10,000 g it may be possible to build a space probe to withstand that. Also, for instance, some watches can withstand 5,000 g and the electronics incorporated within artillery shells can withstand 15,000 g. https... [More]
Comment icon #136 Posted by Ghost Ship 6 years ago
Makes you wonder what tiny devices aliens might have sent to look around Earth. They probably look like insects. That fly on your window might not be a real fly. Cybernetic insects may be the way to the stars. Or like them microscopic creatures that can survive in space.


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