Famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking agreed to join Russian billionaire Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Starshot project, a $100 million endeavor to detect potentially habitable planets outside our solar system.
The Russian entrepreneur with a background in physics is not at his first attempt to find alien life. Over the years, he has sponsored various space ventures including the Breakthrough Listen project, which is designed to comb the universe for alien life over the next 10 years.
On Tuesday, Milner disclosed another ambitious plan in New York. The Russian will invest $100 million in Breakthrough Starshot, after he had put the same sum into the Breakthrough Listen project.
Breakthrough Starshot will have Stephen Hawking on board in its effort to find exoplanets that may support life. For this goal, the team will develop a fleet of “light-propelled nanocrafts,” which will be instructed to make an interstellar trip to the Alpha Centauri star system. The mission is expected to take 24 years.
Milner said that the project is ‘doable in our lifetime.’ He noted that he has hired top space engineers and scientists from NASA and other agencies. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg reportedly will be part of the board of directors.
Yet, Milner is not the only tech billionaire with an appetite for space exploration. SpaceX’s founder Elon Musk proudly announced that his private spaceflight company has successfully retrieved the first stage of a rocket from ocean last Friday.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has plans for deep space exploration missions involving humans, and even land people on Mars. But Milner’s projects are much more ambitious.
The Russian internet billionaire plans to use state-of-the-art technology including microchips and lasers to power his robotic fleet. Alpha Centauri is a the closest star system to our own, located 4.73 light-years away, and which may host habitable planets.
Pete Worden, a former senior researcher at NASA’s Ames Research Center, who is involved in the project, said that the team plans to overcome all engineering challenges in order to allow scientists to do something ‘really amazing.’ He explained that it would take 30,000 years to get to Alpha Centauri with modern-day spacecrafts.
But with butterfly-sized spacecrafts the journey could take just 20 years. The robotic spaceships will be fueled by solar power and laser technology. Engineers are now working on boosting the speed of the robotic spacecrafts to 134 million mph, which is one-fifth of the speed of light.
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