After a hundred years since the first landing on the moon space Agency NASA hopes (hopes, not plans) to send a research probe to study the nearest neighboring star system, alpha Centauri. On the agenda at the moment is one question: how actually to implement it?
Some exclusive details of the new project was revealed to the journalists of the portal New Scientist that literally elicited them from a small research group of jet propulsion Laboratory of NASA (JPL) after they have introduced the concept of his mission at the annual conference of the American geophysical Union. The fact that the project is in so early phase that he does not even have a name. Moreover, most of the technologies required for its implementation is just not there.
“While this is all very vague,” said speakers at the conference Anthony Freeman from JPL, introducing this concept at the conference in New Orleans.
Currently the only spacecraft left the Solar system, is “Voyager 1”, which moves through interstellar space at a speed of 61,000 kilometers per hour. Despite the fact that alpha Centauri is just around the corner from us, of course, by galactic standards, its distance is 4.3 light years or 41.2 trillion kilometers. At the speed that moves “Voyager 1”, on the journey to the system he would need almost 80 000 years.
The team from NASA, hopes to develop technology that will allow us to accelerate an interstellar probe to 1/10 the speed of light. On the basis of what will be built, this technology is completely unknown. Different sources, however, speculate on what such technology can include, for example, the use of lasers and micro-organisms, capable of producing jet thrust. Among other theoretical possibilities considered the option of using nuclear reactions or reactions the collision of matter with antimatter. Again, we are talking about the project, which will start not before 2069.
Even if future NASA engineers will be able to create technology that could propel spacecraft to 1/10 the speed of light, the flight to alpha Centauri, and in particular to very interesting scientists on the planet of Proxima b probe will need 44 years. Moreover, the space Agency will have to work very hard if it wants to get there first, because the same desire is not just to be with him.
Project Breakthrough Starshot is a non-governmental program science initiative group Breakthrough Initiatives, the development of which Russian billionaire Yuri Milner (one of the founders of the Breakthrough Initiatives) has allocated $ 100 million. The objective of the program is to send an interstellar probe to alpha Centauri. Among the most promising options is the use of a spacecraft in the form of a tiny plate, which is connected with the solar sail, the acceleration which they will deliver focused laser beams. It is assumed that in this design the spacecraft will be able to develop up to 20 percent of the speed of light.
Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking is also participating in this project.
“Using laser beams, light sails, and the lightest ever created by a spacecraft we can fly to alpha Centauri in a generation,” said Hawking during a press conference at One World Observatory (new York, USA).
But before this ambitious plan will be translated into reality, the project, or rather its engineers will have to solve many different problems, including development of the necessary technologies.
The system alpha Centauri consists of three stars. Two of them, about the size of our Sun, revolve around each other, and the third is red dwarf around them. The recent discovery of Proxima Centauri b exoplanet the size of Earth and possibly suitable for life – has led scientists in a real delight. Researchers can’t wait for more details to study it.
“The wall facing us, is a great void between us and other stars. But we can go around. We can, because we – the people. Fly — nature to us,” said Hawking.