Space & Astronomy
Hawking and NASA develop interstellar probe
December 12, 2016 | 18 comments
Is it possible to reach our nearest neighbor within two decades ? Image Credit: NASA
Professor Stephen Hawking has teamed up with NASA to design and develop an interstellar nano-starship.
Back in April, billionaire Yuri Milner and physicist Stephen Hawking revealed a new project known as Breakthrough Starshot which aimed to send miniature postage stamp-sized spacecraft to the Alpha Centauri system within two decades at speeds of up to 20% that of the speed of light.
Large numbers of these tiny probes would be accelerated up to speed by lasers on the Earth's surface. Equipped with cameras and other sensors, the spacecraft would be able to record data about a distant planet before transmitting that information back home.
Finding a way to enable these miniature probes to survive for two decades while exposed to the high-energy radiation of deep space however has proven to be something of a challenge.
Now though, NASA has come forward with several possible ways to help solve the problem.
One of these would involve plotting a specific route which will bypass the high-radiation areas, however this could make the trip much longer and may not protect the probes in the long run.
A second option would be to install electromagnetic shielding in the probes, but this would also prove problematic as it would increase the size, weight and cost of the spacecraft.
Yet another option would be to build the probes using self-repairing microchips - a technology that would enable them to continuously repair over time no matter how much damage they sustained.
Right now though the project is still very much in the early planning stages.
"The limit that confronts us now is the great void between us and the stars," said Hawking.
"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."
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