Internet Investor and Science Philanthropist Yuri Milner & Physicist Stephen Hawking Announce Breakthrough Starshot Project to Develop 100 Million Mile per Hour Mission to the Stars within a Generation
$100 million research and engineering program will seek proof of concept for using light beam to propel gram-scale ‘nanocraft’ to 20 percent of light speed. A possible fly-by mission could reach Alpha Centauri within about 20 years of its launch.
Mark Zuckerberg is joining the board.
New York – Tuesday, April 12 – Internet investor and science philanthropist Yuri Milner was joined at One World Observatory today by renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking to announce a new Breakthrough Initiative focusing on space exploration and the search for life in the Universe.
Breakthrough Starshot is a $100 million research and engineering program aiming to demonstrate proof of concept for light-propelled nanocrafts. These could fly at 20 percent of light speed and capture images of possible planets and other scientific data in our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, just over 20 years after their launch.
The program will be led by Pete Worden, the former director of NASA AMES Research Center, and advised by a committee of world-class scientists and engineers. The board will consist of Stephen Hawking, Yuri Milner, and Mark Zuckerberg.
Ann Druyan, Freeman Dyson, Mae Jemison, Avi Loeb and Pete Worden also participated in the announcement.
Today, on the 55th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s pioneering space flight, and nearly half a century after the original ‘moonshot’, Breakthrough Starshot is launching preparations for the next great leap: to the stars.
The Alpha Centauri star system is 25 trillion miles (4.37 light years) away. With today’s fastest spacecraft, it would take about 30,000 years to get there. Breakthrough Starshot aims to establish whether a gram-scale nanocraft, on a sail pushed by a light beam, can fly over a thousand times faster. It brings the Silicon Valley approach to space travel, capitalizing on exponential advances in certain areas of technology since the beginning of the 21st century.
Nanocrafts are gram-scale robotic spacecrafts comprising two main parts:
- StarChip: Moore’s law has allowed a dramatic decrease in the size of microelectronic components. This creates the possibility of a gram-scale wafer, carrying cameras, photon thrusters, power supply, navigation and communication equipment, and constituting a fully functional space probe.
- Lightsail: Advances in nanotechnology are producing increasingly thin and light-weight metamaterials, promising to enable the fabrication of meter-scale sails no more than a few hundred atoms thick and at gram-scale mass.
2. Light Beamer
- The rising power and falling cost of lasers, consistent with Moore’s law, lead to significant advances in light beaming technology. Meanwhile, phased arrays of lasers (the ‘light beamer’) could potentially be scaled up to the 100 gigawatt level.
Breakthrough Starshot aims to bring economies of scale to the astronomical scale. The StarChip can be mass-produced at the cost of an iPhone and be sent on missions in large numbers to provide redundancy and coverage. The light beamer is modular and scalable. Once it is assembled and the technology matures, the cost of each launch is expected to fall to a few hundred thousand dollars.
Path to the stars
The research and engineering phase is expected to last a number of years. Following that, development of the ultimate mission to Alpha Centauri would require a budget comparable to the largest current scientific experiments, and would involve:
- Building a ground-based kilometer-scale light beamer at high altitude in dry conditions
- Generating and storing a few gigawatt hours of energy per launch
- Launching a ‘mothership’ carrying thousands of nanocrafts to a high-altitude orbit
- Taking advantage of adaptive optics technology in real time to compensate for atmospheric effects
- Focusing the light beam on the lightsail to accelerate individual nanocrafts to the target speed within minutes
- Accounting for interstellar dust collisions en route to the target
- Capturing images of a planet, and other scientific data, and transmitting them back to Earth using a compact on-board laser communications system
- Using the same light beamer that launched the nanocrafts to receive data from them over 4 years later.
These and other system requirements represent significant engineering challenges, and they can be reviewed in more detail online at www.breakthroughinitiatives.org. However, the key elements of the proposed system design are based on technology either already available or likely to be attainable in the near future under reasonable assumptions.
The proposed light propulsion system is on a scale significantly exceeding any currently operational analog. The very nature of the project calls for global co-operation and support.
Clearance for launches would be required from all the appropriate government and international organizations.
As the technology required for interstellar travel matures, a number of additional opportunities will emerge, including the following:
- Contribution to solar system exploration.
- Using the light beamer as a kilometer-scale telescope for astronomical observations.
- Detection of Earth-crossing asteroids at large distances.
Potential Planets in the Alpha Centauri system
Astronomers estimate that there is a reasonable chance of an Earth-like planet existing in the ‘habitable zones’ of Alpha Centauri’s three-star system. A number of scientific instruments, ground-based and space-based, are being developed and enhanced, which will soon identify and characterize planets around nearby stars.
A separate Breakthrough Initiative will support some of these projects.
Open and collaborative environment
The Breakthrough Starshot initiative is:
- based entirely on research that is in the public domain.
- committed to publishing new results.
- dedicated to full transparency and open access.
- open to experts in all relevant fields, as well as the public, to contribute ideas through its online forum.
The list of scientific references and publications, as well as the online forum, can be found at www.breakthroughinitiatives.org.
The Breakthrough Starshot initiative will establish a research grant program, and will make available other funding to support relevant scientific and engineering research and development.
“The human story is one of great leaps,” said Yuri Milner, founder of the Breakthrough Initiatives. “55 years ago today, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. Today, we are preparing for the next great leap - to the stars.”
"Earth is a wonderful place, but it might not last forever," commented Stephen Hawking, “Sooner or later, we must look to the stars. Breakthrough Starshot is a very exciting first step on that journey.”
“We take inspiration from Vostok, Voyager, Apollo and the other great missions,” said Pete Worden, “It’s time to open the era of interstellar flight, but we need to keep our feet on the ground to achieve this.”
Breakthrough Starshot Board
Stephen Hawking, Professor, Dennis Stanton Avery and Sally Tsui Wong-Avery Director of Research at the University of Cambridge
Yuri Milner, Founder of DST Global
Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO, Facebook
Breakthrough Starshot Management and Advisory Committee
Pete Worden, Executive Director, Breakthrough Starshot; former Director of NASA Ames Research Center
Prior to joining the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, Dr. Worden was Director of NASA’s Ames Research Center. He was research professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona. He is a recognized expert on space and science issues and has been a leader in building partnerships between governments and the private sector internationally. Dr. Worden has authored or co-authored more than 150 scientific papers in astrophysics and space sciences. He served as a scientific co-investigator for three NASA space science missions – most recently the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph launched in 2013 to study the Sun. He received the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal for the 1994 Clementine Mission to the moon. Dr. Worden was named the 2009 Federal Laboratory Consortium ‘Laboratory Director of the Year’ and is the recipient of the 2010 Arthur C. Clarke Innovator’s Award.
Avi Loeb, Chairman, Breakthrough Starshot Advisory Committee; Harvard University
Avi Loeb is a theoretical physicist who has written over 500 scientific papers and 3 books on astrophysics and cosmology, mainly on the first stars and black holes. TIME magazine selected him as one of the 25 most influential people in space. Loeb serves as the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University, where he serves as chair of the Harvard Astronomy department, director of the Institute for Theory & Computation and director of the Black Hole Initiative. He is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the American Physical Society, and the International Academy of Astronautics, and a member of the Board on Physics and Astronomy of the National Academies.
Jim Benford, Microwave Sciences
Jim Benford is president of Microwave Sciences. He develops high-power microwave systems from conceptual designs to hardware. His interests include microwave source physics, electromagnetic power beaming for space propulsion, experimental intense particle beams and plasma physics.
Bruce Draine, Princeton University
Dr. Draine's research involves the study of the interstellar medium, especially interstellar dust, photodissociation regions, shock waves and the physical optics of nanostructures. In 2004 he won the Dannie Heinemann Prize for Astrophysics. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
Ann Druyan, Cosmos Studios
Ann Druyan is an American author and producer specializing in science communication. She was the Creative Director of NASA's Voyager Interstellar Message and a co-writer of the 1980 PBS documentary series Cosmos, hosted by Carl Sagan (1934–1996), whom she married in 1981. She was an executive producer and writer of the follow-up series, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, for which she won the Emmy and Peabody awards.
Freeman Dyson, Princeton Institute of Advanced Study
Freeman Dyson is an American theoretical physicist and mathematician, known for his work in quantum electrodynamics, solid-state physics, astronomy and nuclear engineering. He is professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study, a Visitor of Ralston College, and a member of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
Robert Fugate, Arctelum, LLC, New Mexico Tech
Dr. Fugate conducts a research program on atmospheric propagation physics, atmospheric compensation using laser guide star adaptive optics. Dr Fugate’s research program also includes the development of sensors, instrumentation and mount control of large-aperture, ground-based telescopes.
Lou Friedman, Planetary Society, JPL
Lou Friedman is an American astronautics engineer, space spokesperson and noted author. He was a co-founder of The Planetary Society with Carl Sagan and Bruce C. Murray, and is now Executive Director Emeritus. He led Advanced Projects at JPL including development of solar sails, missions to Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, comets and asteroids, and he was the leader of the Mars Program after the Viking Mission. He is currently consulting on NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission. He co-led studies of that mission and of Exploring the Interstellar Medium at the Keck Institute for Space Studies.
Giancarlo Genta, Polytechnic University of Turin
Giancarlo Genta’s areas of professional interest include vibration, vehicle design, magnetic bearings, and rotordynamics. He has written or co-authored more than 50 articles in professional publications and 21 books. He has published extensively in the field of SETI research.
Olivier Guyon, University of Arizona
Dr. Guyon designs space and ground-based astronomical instrumentation that aid the search for exoplanets outside the solar system. He is an expert in high contrast imaging techniques (coronagraphy, extreme adaptive optics) for directly imaging and studying exoplanets.
Mae Jemison, 100 Year Starship
Dr. Mae C. Jemison leads 100 Year Starship, a multifaceted global initiative to realize all the capabilities required for human interstellar travel beyond our solar system to another star within the next 100 years. Jemison was a NASA astronaut for six years and the world’s first woman of color in space. She is committed to applying space exploration advances to enhancing life on Earth, and draws upon her background as a physician, engineer, inventor, environmental studies professor, science literacy advocate, development worker in Africa, and founder of two tech start-ups.
Pete Klupar, Director of Engineering, Breakthrough Starshot; former Director of Engineering, NASA Ames Research Center
Pete Klupar is interested in low cost, high technology efforts with an emphasis on space systems. He has developed and launched more than 50 spacecraft missions. He has spent time in industry, helping to grow a spacecraft startup from 4 employees to over 500. He has also worked in large organizations such as Boeing and Space Systems Loral. He has been involved in government space and aviation programs, most recently at NASA Ames as the director of Engineering. He has been instrumental in reducing the cost of high technology missions, developing several Faster Better Cheaper and Operationally Responsive Space efforts.
Geoff Landis, SA Glenn Research Center
Geoff Landis is an American scientist, working on planetary exploration, interstellar propulsion, and advanced technology for space missions. Landis holds nine patents, primarily in the field of improvements to solar cells and photovoltaic devices, and has given presentations and commentary on the possibilities for interstellar travel and construction of bases on the Moon, Mars, and Venus. He is a fellow of the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts.
Kelvin Long, Journal of the British Interplanetary Society
Kelvin Long is a physicist, author and the executive director of the Initiative for Interstellar Studies. He has worked in the aerospace sector for around fifteen years and he specializes in the subject of interstellar flight, with an emphasis on advanced propulsion concepts.
Philip Lubin, University of California, Santa Barbara
Philip Lubin is Professor of Physics at UC Santa Barbara, with research interests in experimental cosmology, cosmic background radiation (spectrum, anisotropy and polarization), satellite, balloon-born and ground-based studies of the early universe, fundamental limits of detection, directed energy systems, and infrared and far-infrared astrophysics.
Zac Manchester, Harvard University
Zac Manchester is a researcher and aerospace engineer with broad interests in dynamics and control and a passion for making spaceflight more accessible. He is especially interested in taking advantage of advancements in embedded electronics and computation to build spacecraft that are smaller, smarter, and more agile. He founded the KickSat project in 2011 and has also worked on unmanned aerial vehicles and several small spacecraft missions.
Greg Matloff, New York City College of Technology
Greg Matloff is an emeritus professor at the NYC College of Technology. He is an expert in deep space propulsion. Matloff is a fellow of the British interplanetary Society, a Hayden Associate at the American Museum of Natural History and a Corresponding Member of the International Academy of Astronautics. His pioneering research in solar-sail technology has been utilized by NASA in plans for extra-solar probes as well as in consideration of technologies to divert Earth-threatening asteroids. He served as guest professor at the University of Siena, Italy.
Claire Max, University of California, Santa Cruz
Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and the Director of the University of California Observatories. Max is best known for her contributions to laser guide star adaptive optics as a technique for reducing the optical distortions of images taken through the turbulent atmosphere. This work began at the JASON group, which she joined in 1983 as its first female member. With her colleagues in JASON, she developed the idea of using an artificial laser guide star tuned to the yellow light emitted by sodium atoms to correct astronomical images. In addition to continuing to develop this technology at the Center for Adaptive Optics, she now uses adaptive optics on the world's largest optical telescopes to study the fate of supermassive black holes in the cores of colliding gas-rich galaxies. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and winner of the American Astronomical Society's Weber Prize in Instrumentation, Princeton University's James Madison Medal and the Department of Energy's E. O. Lawrence award.
Kaya Nobuyuki, Kobe University
Kaya Nobuyuki is vice dean of the graduate school of engineering at Kobe University in Japan. Noboyuki has performed numerous space and ground demonstrations. He and an international team from Japan and the European Space Agency successfully tested microwave beam control for an SPS using an ISAS sounding rocket and three daughter satellites deploying a large web: this was known as the “Furoshiki” experiment. He also played a central role in the demonstration of key solar-powered wireless transmission as part of the Orbital Power Plant.
Kevin Parkin, Parkin Research
Dr. Kevin Parkin is a British-born scientist who is best known for inventing the Microwave Thermal Rocket. In 2005, he was awarded the Korolev Medal by the Russian Federation of Astronautics and Cosmonautics. In 2007, Dr. Parkin founded the Mission Design Center at NASA Ames and developed its software architecture, having previously created the ICEMaker software used for spacecraft design by Team-X at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and several other organizations. From 2012-2014 he was the Principal Investigator and Chief Engineer of a project that built the first millimeter-wave powered thermal rocket and launched it.
Mason Peck, Cornell University
Peck's academic research focuses on technology development for low-cost space missions, particularly in the areas of propulsion, navigation, and control. He is the former NASA Chief Technologist. He has worked closely with the US Aerospace industry for over 20 years, having held engineering positions at Boeing and Honeywell, and having served as a consultant in space technology. Peck has published articles on microscale spacecraft, next-generation propulsion, low-power space robotics and spaceflight dynamics. He is the co-author of three books on planetary exploration and spacecraft mechanisms.
Saul Perlmutter, Nobel Prize winner, Breakthrough Prize winner, UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Saul Perlmutter is an American astrophysicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Perlmutter shared the 2006 Shaw Prize in Astronomy, the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, and the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics with Brian P. Schmidt and Adam Riess, for providing evidence that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.
Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal
Lord Martin Rees is a British cosmologist and astrophysicist. He has been Astronomer Royal since 1995 and was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge from 2004 to 2012 and President of the Royal Society between 2005 and 2010. Aside from expanding his scientific interests, Rees has written and spoken extensively about the problems and challenges of the 21st century, and the interfaces between science, ethics and politics. He is a member of the Board of the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton, the IPPR, the Oxford Martin School and the Gates Cambridge Trust. He co-founded the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk and serves on the Scientific Advisory Board for the Future of Life Institute. Lord Rees has worked on gamma-ray bursts and on how the "cosmic dark ages" ended when the first stars formed. Lord Rees is an author of books on astronomy and science intended for the public, and gives many public lectures and broadcasts.
Roald Sagdeev, University of Maryland
Roald Sagdeev is Distinguished University Professor Emeritus at the University of Maryland. He earned his Ph.D. in 1966 from Moscow State University. He previously served for 15 years as Director of the Space Research Institute, the Moscow-based center of the Russian space exploration program, where he currently holds the title of Director Emeritus. Prior to his work with the Soviet space exploration program, he had a distinguished career in nuclear science, gaining international recognition for his work on the behavior of hot plasma and controlled thermonuclear fusion. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy, the Max Planck Society and the International Academy of Aeronautics.
Ed Turner, Princeton University, NAOJ
Ed Turner is Professor of Astrophysics at Princeton University. Turner has worked extensively in both theoretical and observational astrophysics, and has published more than 200 research papers on topics including binary galaxies, groups of galaxies, large-scale structure, dark matter, quasar populations, gravitational lensing, the cosmic x-ray background, the cosmological constant, exoplanets and astrobiology – frequently, in all of these areas, with an emphasis on statistical analyses. His recent teaching activities at Princeton include courses in cosmology, in astrobiology and in media coverage of science, and he has been a member of the University’s Committee for Statistical Studies since 1992.
Additional information www.breakthroughinitiatives.org.
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