The plan was first proposed by Philip Lubin, a University of California cosmologist in 2015. He proposed an idea that microchip sized spacecraft could be fired out of the solar system with a giant laser. Swarms of the ‘nanocrafts’ could be sent all the way to Alpha Centauri, the nearest stars to Earth other than the Sun.
The lasers will blast microchip sized spaceships deep into space at 20% of the speed of light. The tiny spacecraft, already in orbit, would be propelled using highly reflective sails to capture the momentum of the beam of light.
Six months after his presentation, Lubin’s project had funding and was the Starshot project, the board initially being composed of Stephen Hawking, Yuri Milner, and Mark Zuckerberg. A mission has been proposed to flyby Proxima Centauri b, a planet in the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri, in the Alpha Centauri system.
Their plan is to build an enormous array of powerful lasers and connect them into one 100 gigawatt beam. The microchip sized spacecraft will weigh next to nothing, with the power blast from the lasers and the assistance of solar sails, the miniature spacecraft could reach Alpha Centauri in the next 20 years. The Alpha Centauri star system is 25 trillion miles away.
Photo: “Best image of Alpha Centauri A and B” by Hubble ESA is licensed under CC BY 2.0