Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has a Nanocraft Dream of the Future
Famous physicist Stephen Hawking and a team of well-known space enthusiasts are launching a new space exploration project. At a news conference on April 12th at the University of Cambridge, where Steven Hawking is the director of research, the new project was the announced.
The paralyzed 74-year-old theoretical physicist shows no signs of slowing down his work. During the conference, Hawking said, “What makes us unique is transcending our limits.” The ambitious $100 million project is called Breakthrough Starshot. Its aim is to build a “nanocraft” prototype that will push the limits of space exploration and interstellar travel and most importantly scan the closest galaxies for traces of intelligent life. It will become the most powerful and extensive search for extraterrestrial life in history.
Breakthrough Starshot Initative
Breakthrough Starshot is part of the Breakthrough initiative launched in 2012 by Hawking and Russian billionaire investor and physicist Yuri Milner. The project’s advisory board also includes the previous head of the NASA’s Ames Research Center Peter Worden and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
The board will test and develop technologies needed to propel the nanocraft to the Alpha Centauri star system which is located 4.37 light years (25 trillion miles) away. Only 15 years ago, this project would have been deemed impossible. Due to advances in nanoscience, the team is hoping that over the next 15 years nanotechnology and laser engineering will advance at an accelerating rate, as its been doing since the 1970s according to Moore’s Law. With the costs of processing power decreasing over the years and processing power increasing, the nanocraft that will be developed is planned to be small and light. It is planned to weigh no more than a sheet of paper and be driven through space by a sail as big as child’s kite.
Nanocraft Specifications for Space Exploration
The nanocraft is planned to fly at a speed of 37,000 miles a second and be driven by a billion watt laser powered light beam located here on Earth. Breakthrough Starshot is an exciting step with more than a few kinks to work out for the future. The advisory board of the project which includes scientists and engineers has identified 20 challenges that need to be overcome in order for the craft to takeoff. Among these challenges includes the cost of the initial launch and weight of the fuel needed. The $100 million investment from Yuri Milner will hopefully provide answers to these challenges within the next ten years.