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Why Stephen Hawking, Yuri Milner's Breakthrough Starshot Project Could Be Flawed

Apr 15, 2016 04:09 AM EDT
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Stephen Hawking announced on Tuesday that he and Russian millionaire Yuri Milner are launching an interstellar project dubbed Breakthrough Starshot. The said revolutionary space exploration aims to send robotic probes to an almost impossible destination, Alpha Centauri. However, before Breakthrough Starshot pushes through, there are many challenges that it has to overcome.

1. Lack of Funding

According to NPR, even though Yuri Milner has announced that he will be investing $100 million in Breakthrough Starshot, in the field of space exploration and technology, this is still not enough. Stephen Hawking and his team need to raise more money, billions even, just to suffice the technology they will use to reach Alpha Centauri.

Using the current system available, it would take 80,000 years to complete the trip, according to Discovery News. However, Stephen Hawking and his team are planning to speed up the process by 100 million miles an hour, claiming that the system that they will be using will reach Alpha Centauri in just 20 years.

If this is the case, this means that the big leap from 80,000 years to 20 years equates to bigger funding. The recent probe to Pluto already cost $720 million, making the $100 million from Yuri Milner just a small chip of the whole project.

2. Dangers of Using a Powerful Laser

Breakthrough Starshot requires one big laser to catapult the tiny robotic probes to space. The said laser, as per NPR, is both powerful and dangerous because it requires 100 gigawatts. With that gigantic amount of power, it could fry anything that's obstructing its way like satellites.

3. Obstacle in Communication and Maintenance

Because the tiny robotic probes will be light years away, this means that when something needs to be fixed, the distress signals will reach Earth after a long time. If this happens, alerting the team on Earth and sending back help will cost a lot of years, resulting in uncertainty if the malfunctioning probe will even be fixed or has died already.

4. Without Data Transmission, It's Pointless

Considering the probe's minuscule size, it's still a challenge for Stephen Hawking and the whole Breakthrough Starshot team to find a way to implant a communication and data-gathering device into the probes, which can send data and images back to Earth.

According to Bruce Betts of Planetary Society, without a data-gathering function, the whole Breakthrough Starshot project to Alpha Centauri will be pointless. Betts told NPR, "If you could fly to a forest, and you could see a tree fall, but you can't mention to anyone, did it really matter?"

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