The Breakthrough Starshot project won’t take people to another star, or even take a conventional robotic explorer. Instead the goal is to propel nano-spacecraft, ‘Starchips’, to the Alpha Centauri system, using the pressure of light on four-meter sails of reflective material. These ultra-lightweight vehicles would end up shooting through that distant system (some 4.3 light years, or 26 trillion miles away) with a velocity of some 20% of the speed of light - a mind-boggling 134 million miles per hour. Such a blistering pace would be achieved in the first couple of minutes of 60,000 g acceleration from a near-Earth starting point.
It is, to say the least, pretty audacious.
So does it have a chance of working?Caleb A. Scharf
Short answer: not with our current technology, not anytime soon. But solving some of the numerous challenges this project entails – or at least working on them – should yield interesting results.