Last year, extraterrestrial exploration venture Breakthrough Initiatives announced an ambitious plan to send tons of tiny spacecraft to our nearest neighbouring star system, Alpha Centauri. The project, called Breakthrough Starshot, is focused on launching lightweight 'nanocraft' to the stars at rip-roaring speeds. Recently, the project took a big leap toward achieving its ultimate goal by successfully sending six test craft into Low Earth Orbit.
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Last week, astronomers announced that our nearest neighbouring star hosts an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone -- an exciting prospect for alien life, and a possible second home for humanity. But before we assemble the interstellar welcoming party to greet our cosmic neighbours, we need to figure out whether Proxima b is capable of supporting life at all. Thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope, that question could be answered in less than three years.
Earlier this autumn, Russian billionaire Yuri Milner casually announced his intention to develop spacecraft that can travel at up to 20 per cent the speed of light and reach Alpha Centauri within 20 years. From the outset, it was clear that no humans would be making the warp jump -- the mission will involve extremely lightweight robotic spacecraft. A new fleet of tiny satellites hints at what those future interstellar voyagers will look like and be capable of.
Yesterday, Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner made the mind-blowing announcement that they want to build a fleet of interstellar spacecraft that can travel at relativistic speeds -- up to 20 per cent the speed of light. But it's not just about reaching our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, although that is the new Breakthrough project's moonshot. The technology Hawking and Milner are proposing could revolutionise the search for alien life within our solar system.
Stephen Hawking's plan to create a starcraft that can traverse the inky blackness separating us and our cosmic neighbour is fantastically ambitious and filled with lots of "the tech will come" assumptions. But at its core, the technology that Hawking and billionaire Yuri Milner want to use to create the ship is already here. It's just not quite at the level of development that it needs to be.