In 2015, the hunt for extraterrestrial intelligence got a giant boost when Russian billionaire Yuri Milner revealed a $100 million effort to probe the skies for radio and light signals released by aliens. But now Yuri Milner, Stephen hawking and Mark Zuckerberg have come up with a different plan, instead of waiting for signals from aliens, Milner now plans to construct an interstellar spacecraft. Yes, that’s true. In a combined statement at the One World Observatory in New York City today, Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking revealed Breakthrough Starshot, a 100 million dollar exploration and engineering program looking for to lay the basics for an eventual interstellar voyage.
The first step of this program includes assembling a light-propelled “nanocrafts” that has the capability of traveling at relativistic speeds—up to 20 percent the speed of light. At such high a speed, the robotic spacecraft would easily be able to reach our neighbor and closest star system, Alpha Centauri, just over 20 years after launch. Milner said “For the first time in human history we can do more than just gaze at the stars. We can actually reach them.”
The technology required for the billionaire’s motivated proposal—of which models were publicized today—comprises a “Starchip,” a gram scale wafer transporting cameras, photon thrusters, power supply, navigation and communication gear.
Boosting that small science laboratory is a “Lightsail,” a meter-sized sail that’s only a few hundred atoms thick and weighs only a couple of grams. The light sail will be pushed away from the Earth by a phased array of lasers, increasing its speed up to 100,000,000 miles per hour—a thousand times faster than the fastest spacecraft today.
Yeah we know this all sounds like the crazy ambitious fantasy of a starstruck billionaire and that’s, to some extent, the truth. . But according to Yuri Milner and Hawking, it’s also achievable with technology not too far off. "Lightsail" has been tested before by Planetary Society and it works. Milner said:
“The Breakthrough concept is based on technology either already available or likely to be available in the near future. But as with any moonshot, there are major hurdles to be solved.”
That’s why Milner and his team of courageous would-be spacefarers are petitioning assistances from the international scientific community and the public alike. Breakthrough Starshot, Milner said, will be grounded completely on work in the public domain. Milner continued:
“Here, at One World Observatory, we are launching a collaborative planetary endeavor. Only by challenging ourselves can we find out if we, like the pioneers before us, have the ability and ambition to succeed.”