Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has presented in New York an ambitious exploration of the Universe which includes a new model mini spacecraft with which it is intended to achieve the closest to our star system, Alpha Centauri at 4.37 light years. The initiative, whose ultimate aim is to search for life beyond Earth, is driven by a group of billionaire businessmen, including Yuri Milner Russian philanthropist and founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg.
“To survive as a species, eventually we must travel to the stars, and today we commit to the next big man in the cosmos,” said Hawking at a press conference in one of the upper floors of the tallest skyscraper in New York.
The “Shooting Star” (Starshot) project is inspired by an idea that has existed for decades: the solar sail. The probe, the size of a mobile phone equipped with microelectronics and a small candle, will be manufactured with an extremely light and thin material called lightsail, which theoretically can quickly accelerate the momentum of a highly concentrated laser beam projected from Earth.
Thus, the pencil ship may navigate space to 20% of the speed of light. With today’s fastest spacecraft would take 30,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri, the closest star to our planet, while the new probe could fly ultralight thousand times faster and reduce the space journey just 20 years.
“To get an idea, the probe would go a million times faster than a car on the highway,” explained the Russian philanthropist, who presented the ambitious plan with Hawking and other scientists collaborating in the initiative. “For the first time we can do more than see the stars. We can reach them, “he promised poetically.
The spacecraft will incorporate a set of cameras, sensors and other technology to pinpoint “look for traces of life in the Universe” and transmit them back to Earth through a communications satellite built. Its design used the latest advances in nanotechnology and photonics technology.
At the moment, this project does not yet have a release date, although scientists did announce a budget of approximately 100 million dollars for this pilot project which, if completed successfully, would demonstrate “a new way of exploring space” according Milner. This would incredible scientific and engineering in the development of its technology and communications systems challenges.
Both in his brief presentation and in the subsequent dialogue with journalists, Stephen Hawking, assisted by built his wheelchair and allows you to communicate with other computer, he added that, despite being a great initiative “generation “the probability of finding intelligent life in space” is low. ” But he believes it is “a worthwhile effort.”
Shooting Star will be led by the former director of the Research Center AMES NASA, Pete Worden, and a team of engineers and scientists among them Ann Druyan, Freeman Dyson, Mae Jemison and Avi Loeb. The project management will be led by Hawking with Milner and Zuckerberg, who joined the project late. According to scientists announced, if the tests were successful could be launched into space orbit thousands of these microchips to further explore the Universe.