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Stephen Hawking, Yuri Milner, Mark Zuckerberg's 'Breakthrough Starshot' Needs to Sail to Mars Before Alpha Centauri

May 19, 2016 04:03 AM EDT

Cosmologist Stephen Hawking, together with Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and with the help of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, announced earlier this year that they are building the smallest aircraft or nanocraft called 'Breakthrough Starshot' which can reach beyond our solar system.

Starshot aims to reach Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system where no one has ever been before using laser sails to propel its tiny spacecraft. But experts say that in order to test their technology, 'Starshot' has to sail to Mars first.

Breakthrough Starshot will be propelled by laser sails to move faster than any spacecraft has ever gone. It can go 25 percent faster than the speed of light, according to a report by Popular Science.

Because of this technology, Hawking claims that it'll be able to reach the Alpha Centauri in 20 years. But in order to prove that their technology would work, they should perform an interplanetary mission first. Researchers believe that if the promised features of Starshot are true, then it can sail to Mars for about 30 minutes.

NASA said interplanetary missions are now possible but this laser sail system by Starshot can make travels within our Solar System a lot faster.

"Once you get this technology, it will allow you to fly missions any place in the solar system at remarkably fast speeds," says science fiction author, NASA physicist, and Breakthrough Starshot advisor Geoffrey Landis, in the report by Popular Science.

Developing this kind of high-speed yet small spacecraft is difficult. They will have to find a way for the 'laser sails' to beam in unison to help propel the spacecraft. Lightweight materials have to be perfected as well if they intend to travel at an unbelievable speed.

The team engaged in creating Breakthrough Starshot also thinks that an interplanetary space flight is logical so they can study which part of the project needs reinforcement or reconstruction.

"As we build larger arrays with higher and higher power levels that can shoot things out at higher and higher speeds, the logical place to first send them is elsewhere in the solar system," says Breakthrough Starshot advisor Philip Lubin in an interview, as also posted by Popular Science.

Mars is approximately 33.9 million miles from Earth. In 2014, Space.Com calculated that on the average it'll take 162 days for a manmade aircraft to reach Mars from our planet. But with the professed speed of 'Breakthrough Starshot', it can reach Mars in just 30 minutes. Experts say Starshot should manage this first before thinking about conquering the 4.3 light-years or 25 trillion miles distance of the Alpha Centauri.

If this experiment pushes through, their deep space exploration project may indeed have a shot in reaching Alpha Centauri.


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