Currently, the farthest thing from Earth that humans have launched into the galaxy is Voyager 1, which recently left our solar system and is now traveling through interstellar space, approximately 12 billion miles from wherever you are reading this.
It’s been on that journey for 39 years. If Stephen Hawking has his way, his new spaceship will blow by Voyager 1 in four fucking days.
Four fucking days.
That’s the new ambitious, audacious, and amazing plan announced today by the theoretical physicist, as part of his Breakthrough initiative. If you remember, last year he and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner said they would put pounds of dough and talent into finding extraterrestrial life. The first funding went to Breakthrough Listen, to search the skies for sounds from aliens.
Now, we’re sending a fucking spaceship to Earth’s next closest star system, Alpha Centauri, as part of Breakthrough Spaceship. That’s fucking right, humans. We’re going to another star.
We’re going to another star.
The three stars of Alpha Centauri are only about 25 trillion miles away from Earth (you know, just four light years, nbd), and Hawking says his new spaceship can get there in 20 years.
Check out this bad ass mother fucker.
A 100 billion-watt laser-powered light beam would accelerate a “nanocraft” – something weighing little more than a sheet of paper and driven by a sail not much bigger than a child’s kite, fashioned from fabric only a few hundred atoms in thickness – to the three nearest stars at 60,000km a second.
Just look how damn small it is. If you’re wondering why we’ve never seen a UFO, imagine how small their ships would be with a 10,000 year technological head start.
But fuck those aliens. Now it’s our turn.
“The human story is one of great leaps,” Milner said [about his plan]. “Today we are preparing for the next great leap – to the stars.” And Professor Hawking said “Earth is a wonderful place, but it might not last forever. Sooner or later we must look to the stars. Breakthrough Starshot is a very exciting first step on that journey.”
Hawking and Milner believe we’re only approximately 20 years away from developing all the technology necessary to build and propel his spaceship, and have built a coalition of investors and scientists to work on the project immediately. And if 40 years is too long for you to wait well then you can suck a dick.
The project’s begetters argue that they have Moore’s Law working for them: the memory and processing power available on a computer chip doubles every 18 months or so. New advances in nanoscience mean that fabrics with unique properties can be made to order. And advances in laser technology mean that huge power can be generated at relatively low costs.
At the heart of the project will be the starchip and lightsail. The great hurdle in all space missions is the cost of launch and the weight of fuel. The headlong miniaturisation of microelectronics means that it might be possible to pack the entire control system, the sensors, camera, navigation equipment, photon thrusters, transmitter and power supply onto a tiny silicon wafer, and mount it on an ultra-thin sail weighing only grams, that would respond to the pressure of light.
Then we will shoot that motherfucker with a laser and send it blasting into space.
Avi Loeb, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, who heads the advisory board, said that to power the spacecraft, researchers have to work out how to link lasers into one massive array. Since the range of focus of a big laser on a small target would be no more than a million kilometers, the fragile spacecraft must reach terminal speed in just two minutes, and survive an acceleration of 60,000 times the force of gravity.
Chill. The last (and possibly biggest) hurdle to overcome is how to send data back to Earth across such a vast distance.
[Loeb] believes that starship could record images and data as it nears the red dwarf Proxima Centauri, the nearest to Earth. The big challenge would be to transmit the information across a distance of more than four light years to a receiving station on a planet already far away and long ago. The laser array – the Light Beamer – would double as a telescope system to receive the signal back from the receding nanocraft.
Whatever. All simple shit to figure out. I’m 32. If we can get to another fucking star by the time I’m 70, I’ll call that one crazy fucking achievement.
Even though I had nothing to do with it.
[All quotes via The Guardian]