The Breakthrough Starshot program has huge ambition of sending out a tiny, light-propelled robotic spacecraft to nearby star systems in a bid to find habitable planets. Stephen Hawking is one of the board members of Breakthrough Initiatives who believes that China could be a part of the Breakthrough Starshot program.
Hawking addressed the annual Tencent’s We Summit in China through video conferencing and said that the Breakthrough Starshot is an opportunity for man to make early forays into outer space.
Pete Worden, executive director of the Breakthrough Starshot program and former director of NASA Ames Research Center, said that China is a major player in promoting such space programs and they look forward to working with Chinese experts and institutes in this regard.
According to Worden, the program needs $1 billion to build the preliminary prototype craft within five or six years. It would need $10 billion to complete the program and the funds would be raised from China and several other countries, he said.
Breakthrough Starshot has been initiated by Stephen Hawking and Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner and aims to build laser beam-propelled “nanocraft” that can travel at 20 percent of the speed of light and is much faster than today’s swiftest spacecraft. Once the “nanocrafts” are built and deployed, they can reach Alpha Centauri, 4.37 light-years away from the Sun and is the closest star system, in about 20 years.
The Breakthrough Starshot spacecraft will consist of a wafer-size chip attached to a super-thin sail. The paired duo will be launched into space from a mother ship, and then propelled to the stars by laser light beamed from a high-altitude facility here on Earth.
“China did quite well as some developed countries in various areas including satellites. Notably, the country is good at lowering the cost to an affordable level when making satellite transmitters,” he added.
There are still major challenges before the Breakthrough Starshot program can be made a reality, admitted Hawking. These include challenges like how to combine hundreds of lasers through the motion of the atmosphere, propel the nanocraft without incinerating them, and aim them in the right direction, the renowned physicist said.
Hawking predicted that by 2600, the world’s population would be standing shoulder to shoulder and the electricity consumption would make the Earth glow red hot.
To avoid the potential for Armageddon, Hawking said that the best way is to move out into space, and explore the potential for humans to live on other planets.
“If the human race is to continue for another million years, we will have to boldly go, where no one has gone before.”