Mankind’s fastest spaceship will take thousands of years to reach even the nearest stars. Breakthrough Initiatives are exploring the possibility of reducing it in a few decades, potentially giving scientists the opportunity to see the results of the mission launched.
A new study in the Journal of the American Bee Optical Society found that one of the main obstacles to such a project could be overcome through existing technology, although the authors acknowledge that other obstacles still exist. The larger the object, the faster it accelerates, especially when you approach the speed of light, which represents a major problem for a spacecraft carrying its own spacecraft.
Alpha Centauri is the closest star and planetary system to Earth – it’s 4.37 light-years away, but with current technology it would take a human being about 6,000 years to get there. Dr Chathura Bandutunga of the Australian National University said in a statement, “To cover the vast distances between Alpha Centauri and our own solar system, we must think outside the box and create a new way to travel inland.”
A lot of lightweight missions can be given a strong push and left to travel alone. The idea of using lasers to push this has been around for decades but is now being explored more seriously as part of the Breakthrough Starshot. There are many challenges to doing this, but Bandutanga argues that the atmosphere should not be one of them. The twinkling of stars reminds us of how much the atmosphere affects incoming light. The same distortions affect the laser light transmitted upwards, potentially preventing the lasers from applying the force needed to advance the path of a spacecraft.
Some proponents of the idea have suggested locating the launch system on the moon, but the cost would be quite, in astronomy. The first author of the Bandutanga paper argues that the adaptive optics used by telescopes to compensate for atmospheric distortions could be used in reverse. A small satellite-mounted laser directed at the earth can be used to measure atmospheric effects in real-time, allowing them to adjust to more powerful lasers on the ground while preserving their focus on ground probes.
“Too much stronger” is no exaggeration. Previous studies have identified the need for these lasers to power up to 100GW. The entire United States uses an average of 450 gigawatts of electricity at any one time. Bandutanga and co-author Dr. Paul Sibyl are uninterrupted. They told IFLScience, “It only needs to run for 10 minutes at full power.” So we imagine a battery or super capacitors that can store energy for several days and suddenly drop it. “Distributed over an area of 100 million square kilometers. This power will be supplied from the laser.