The Alpha Centauri system is made of three stars and orbits at least two planets smaller than the three-star proximity.
It is also the closest star system to Earth and for a while, researchers are seriously considering sending a mission there. The most famous mission proposal is Breakthrough Starshot. Nanocraft are thinner and lighter a credit card and will attach to a lighter and stronger solar panel. A powerful laser blast would shoot the sail, accelerating the sail and spacecraft at one-fifth of the speed of light.
Thanks to this initial push, the nanocraft could complete a 4.37 light-year journey on the Alpha Centauri system in just 20 years. For comparison, a chemical rocket would take more than 30,000 years to make it perfect. Breakthrough Initiatives are not just planning an inter-centric mission. Every year, on the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first flight into space, they host a conference called Breakthrough Discus.
The 2021 conference had a very interesting title: “Alpha Centauri System: Taking a Baking.” In addition, we have heard some interesting discussions and some bold proposals for the Proxima Centauri mission. The first day focused on the incredible observations being made on our nearest stellar neighbor. These include Proxima Centauri orbiting planets, as well as strange radio signals detected from the system by Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) for exploration.
On the second day of the breakthrough discussion, the conversation focused more on technology. How send an investigation to the Alpha Centauri system and 4.37. A light-year-long probe focused on sending his research back to Earth. UCLA Professor Artur Davoan presented one of the mission designs. He discusses the current challenges for working Breakthrough Starshot: You need a very powerful laser array, a functional nanocrocket, a light sail, and a way to communicate back to Earth from deep space. Each involved is a work in progress with many challenges.
There is, however, excitement in accepting these challenges, and he discussed an innovative design for the spacecraft that may not reach Alpha Centauri but will allow us to explore the solar system faster than ever before. Instead of attaching a nanocraft to the light sea, he kept a design where light-cells and nanocraft were the same thing and weighed only 1 gram (0.035 ounces). This design has to do with current technology, and with a 100MW laser (powerful yes but nothing beyond sci-fi), the 1g wafer-thin craft can accelerated at high speeds. It will reach Mars in just one month and Pluto in about two years.