Cosmologist Stephen Hawking and other scientists announced a $100 million plan Tuesday to create a small robotic probe capable of reaching Alpha Centauri, the star system closest to Earth, in just 20 years.
The plan is to build an extremly small craft powered by a giant array of lasers to accelerate up to 20 percent of the speed of light.
“The limit that confronts us now is the great void between us and the stars, but now we can transcend it,” Hawking said Tuesday during a news conference. “With light beams, light sails and the lightest spacecraft ever built, we can launch a mission to Alpha Centauri within a generation.”
The entire craft would be very small, and would have sails only a few meters wide and a few hundred atoms thick.
Alpha Centauri is the closest neighboring star system, but it’s more than 4.3 light years, or about 25 trillion miles, away. A conventional rocket powered probe would taken an estimated 30,000 years to make the same trip.
The project will be funded by Russian billionaire investor Yuri Milner who will pay for part of the project’s “$100 million research and engineering program,” but the actual price tag of a mission will likely be much higher. However, a mere $100 million is a relatively small amount of money. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s budget includes more than $2 billion each year for global warming science.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg will also be on the project’s board of directors.
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