Russian billionaire Yuri Milner plans to spend $100 million over the next few years to begin developing the technology needed to build a giant laser array to propel swarms of postage stamp-size spacecraft off on 20-year-long interstellar flights to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star to the sun, the internet investor announced Tuesday.
The tiny 1-gram nanocraft, or “StarChips,” would be equipped with small, ultra-thin light sails and accelerated, one at a time, to 20 percent the speed of light by a powerful half-mile-wide array of ground-based lasers, boosting them to a cruise velocity of some 37,200 miles per second in a few minutes.
From that point on, the tiny spacecraft would sail on their own across the immense 4.3-light-year — 25-trillion-mile — gulf, flying through the Alpha Centauri system about 20 years after launch. Each surviving “spacecraft on a chip” would snap pictures and beam the data back to Earth using tiny on-board lasers, the faint signals arriving four years later.
The G-forces are very high and that would make scaling it up to be a manned starship a huge challenge:
The collimated beam hitting the sail of a nanocraft would accelerate it to cruise velocity in about two minutes, he said, briefly subjecting the craft to 60,000 times the force of Earth’s gravity
When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon in 1969 I expected I would be alive to see colonies on the moon and perhaps even visit the moon myself. That seems very unlikely at this point. But it’s plausible that I will be alive to see the pictures taken from within a million miles from Alpha Centauri. That’s something I didn’t imagine and is a certain amount of consolation.