Physicist Stephen Hawking, along with billionaire Yuri Milner are proposing a new method of space travel that involves sending spacecraft to other star systems using lasers. They’re calling the $100 million research program Breakthrough Starshot.
"Today, we commit to this next great leap into the cosmos," Hawking said in a statement on Tuesday. "Because we are human, and our nature is to fly."
So… lasers? How does that work?
Small nano-crafts at gram-scale weight would be launched into space and then propelled at about 20% of the speed of light (100 million miles per hour) with powerful laser light beam systems mounted on the ground here on Earth and sails.
One of the star systems Hawking suggested for this proposal was Alpha Centauri, which is the closest star system to us apart from our own Sun.
It was noted that with this new transpiration configuration, space travel to this star system could take 20 years, rather than tens of thousands of years as it would take with our most powerful propulsion rockets we have in service today.
Because the crafts are so small, it would be easy to build many of them, rather than just one. As a result, we would actually be able to send these little spacecraft to multiple systems throughout the universe, expanding our footprint far beyond our Milky Way galaxy to get a better understanding of what’s around us.
This proposal, if successful, would be the first time mankind will ever send any kind of spacecraft outside of our own star system and to another. It may even be capable of sending spacraft as far as to different galaxies.
Any spacecraft sent out of our galaxy could even study other-worldly planets to help us find the answer to the universal question: are we alone out there?