Stephen Hawking, the acclaimed theoretical physicist along with Yuri Milner, the Russian billionaire announced a joint plan at a recent press conference to sendout interstellar probes to the star system named Alpha Centauri. The project claims to use an extremely large laser from Earth to slingshot postage-stamp-size spacecrafts to something close to light speed. They would travel across the void in a little less than 20 years which is virtually no time at all the interstellar scale of travel. While the plans all seen very exciting and ambitious, it remains to be seen if Breakthrough Starshot can overcome several more earth-bound problems.
One of the key issues in the plan is the 100 gigawatt laser that is powerful enough to fry more than a few satellites.The project’s leader Pete Worden says that scheduling the laser to fire at an opportune time when it is not likely to hit a satellite will be easy to arrange. He also says that Starshot will be controlled by teams in several countries and by several international agreements.
Despite big money being involved in the project, the $100 million that Miler has pledged will hardly be enough. In fact, the Pluto probe which was sent out last year set NASA’s budget back by $722 million. Considering the distance to cost ration, the Alpha Centauri cluster is 25 trillion miles from earth, compared to the 3 billion miles of Pluto.Milner acknowledges that this will not be enough, but is hoping that his money will be enough to things started rolling.
The last and most pressing problem Starshot has is communication whether for repair and maintenance or simple feedback on the probe’s journey. Communications can take up to a year to reach Earth and by then, there could have been a plethora of changes on both ends. t has taken up the priority in the Starshot project for now.