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Milner and Hawking’s Breakthrough Starshot

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CIOL Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking’s Breakthrough Starshot

The billionaire science patron, Yuri Milner has teamed up with physicist Stephen Hawking to announce another $100 million worth investment with a goal of sending spaceships from Earth to the closest star at 20 percent of the speed of light. Last summer, Milner had announced an investment of $100 million into searching for extraterrestrial life.

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Together with a team of scientists, they suggest that within a generation, humans could send a probe to Alpha Centauri — more than 4.3 light-years away, or 25 trillion miles — on a trip that would take just over two decades. That's 1,000 times faster than the current fastest spacecraft, the scientists say.

The project, called Breakthrough Starshot, will be led by Pete Worden, the former head of the NASA Ames Research Center. The board of the project consists of Milner, Hawking, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Breakthrough Starshot is a theoretical interstellar vessel that essentially comes with two main parts: a small, sensor-filled wafer, called a “Starchip”, and a Light Sail only a few hundred atoms thick. This small craft would be propelled by a 100-gigahertz laser array that would accelerate the Starshot to nearly 20 percent the speed of light. Then the chip beams data back to Earth at the speed of light, giving scientists insight into another solar system just a quarter of a century after the mission was launched.

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The Starchip forms the core of the plan which relies on Moore's Law — an observation that the number of transistors on a chip tends to double in two years, which will enable camera components, batteries, sensors, and more to be put on a small chip.

CIOL Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking’s Breakthrough Starshot

Milner says, "Technological advances of the past 15 years have suddenly turned this into a feasible idea. This sail idea is not new. It’s been conceived of in the past. The problem was that the sail was too heavy and the spaceship was too heavy.”

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Instead of sending just one tiny spacecraft, the idea is to send hundreds or thousands — so many could be lost along the way, without the mission's being useless. “We’re launching a collaborative planetary endeavor,” Milner said at a press conference, “One world, reaching out to the galaxy.”

Hawking at the press conference said, "I believe what makes us unique is transcending our limits. Gravity pins us to the ground, but I just flew to America. I lost my voice, but I can still speak, thanks to my voice synthesizer. How do we transcend these limits? With our minds — and our machines.”

"The limit that confronts us now is the great void between us and the stars. But now we can transcend it. With light beams, light sails and the lightest spacecraft ever built, we can launch a mission to Alpha Centauri within a generation," Hawking explained.

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