Billionaire Yuri Milner plans to create a fleet of tiny spaceships called “nanocraft” in his personal quest to find alien life in the universe, the Silicon Valley businessman announced Tuesday as he was joined by Stephen Hawking.
Milner, who has already spent $100 million of his own private fortune to expand SETI’s use of radio technology, plans to launch thousands of “nanocraft” powered by high-energy laser beams from Earth.
Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb, who heads Milner’s own personal SETI program dubbed Breakthrough Starshot, told SFGate his group hopes to demonstrate their “nanocraft” technology within a decade.
“Interstellar travel is challenging, but based on these technical advances, we believe there is a path forward without obvious show-stoppers. If we are lucky, it’s a couple of decades.”
The project relies on the idea of photonic propulsion in which small wafer thin spaceships use a specially designed sail to catch laser light beamed from Earth. The technology could allow spacecraft to accelerate to 30 percent the speed of light and speed mankind’s search for alien life in the universe.
Using this technology, a “nanocraft,” armed with tiny cameras and communication equipment, could zip past Mars in three days and be at Alpha Centauri in 15 years; today’s spaceships would take 30,000 years to make the same trip through space.
The laser-powered “nanocraft” would pass Earth’s Voyager 1 spacecraft in 3 days; the Voyager 1, having operated for 38 years, is the spaceship farthest from Earth and the only one in interstellar space.
A single ship could launch from Earth and deploy the tiny “nanocraft” from space. The small ships would then catch a ride on earth-bound mountaintop lasers generating massive amounts of power with each light beam.
Milner has already donated $100 million to expand UC Berkeley’s SETI program where astronomers around the world analyze incoming radio signals from distant stars in hopes of discovering radio messages.
The Silicon Valley billionaire envisions communication between Earth and a distant alien civilization through the use of highly powered radio transmissions. This would allow us to communicate with extraterrestrial life without the need to meet them in person.
Space travel is starting to be dominated by individual billionaires and their own private space agencies.
Elon Musk and his SpaceX program recently demonstrated the ability to launch and recover a recyclable rocket on a computerized drone ship. The ability to reuse and recycle expensive rocket boosters make space travel much cheaper and brings the idea of space tourism closer to reality.
Along for the ride on Musk’s recyclable rocket was an inflatable room, designed and created by Budget Suite’s founder Robert Bigelow, to be installed in the International Space Station.
Bigelow hopes his Kevlar-plated BEAM, Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, will be used to create space hotels, inflatable spaceships, and maybe even a moon base sometime in 2020.
Amazon founder, billionaire Jeff Bezos, also launched and recovered a computerized recyclable rocket this month in his spaceflight company Blue Origin’s third successful test in five months.
Even school children are jumping on the space bandwagon as one English elementary class proved as they launched their stuffed animal mascot, Sam the Dog, into space with a high-altitude helium balloon. An on-board video camera captured Sam’s ascent, but he became separated as he fell back to Earth. A social-media-based search and rescue mission using the hashtag #SamInSpace is now underway to find the first stuffed dog in space and return him safely to his school.
Meanwhile, America’s government space agency, NASA, continues its plans to capture, redirect, and land on an asteroid before launching a manned mission to Mars, astronaut Charles Bolden said in a space agency press release.
“As a former astronaut and the current NASA Administrator, I’m here to tell you that American leadership in space will continue for at least the next half-century because we have laid the foundation for success, and failure is not an option.”
[Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Breakthrough Prize Foundation]