February 24, 2024

An ambitious NASA project: a laser beam will send small spaceships to distant stars

Small space probes could be used to visit exoplanets this century.

Keystone

A swarm of thousands of microscopic space probes will be sent on a journey to the nearest star using lasers.

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  • Proxima Centauri will be reached with thousands of space probes weighing less than ten grams.
  • A laser beam of enormous energy is supposed to accelerate it to one-fifth the speed of light.
  • Space probes could then take pictures of an Earth-like exoplanet.

NASA is searching for a way through which space probes launched from Earth this century can reach the star Proxima Centauri, which is 4.2 light-years away from us. Proxima Centauri, as its Latin name suggests, is the closest star to our solar system and has at least two planets.

The project, led by astrophysicist Thomas Eubanks, plans to accelerate a swarm of thousands of space probes, each weighing only about ten grams, to about one-fifth the speed of light using a 100-gigawatt laser. This means that Proxima Centauri could be reached in about 20 years, rather than the thousands of years required by current rocket technology.

Arrives in the year 2070

Laser beam propulsion is a concept that has already been discussed several times. The only problem is that enormous energy is needed to accelerate even the smallest masses. Hence the proposal of lightweight space probes.

The probes will then work together like a swarm to produce a signal strong enough for reception on Earth. Their large number also ensures a high level of redundancy, as hundreds of them may fail during a long flight without jeopardizing the mission as a whole.

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Once it enters the Proxima Centauri system, the probe will then take images of the planet Proxima Centauri b, which is believed to be similar to Earth. Eubanks believes it is realistic to launch the probes around 2050, and then they will reach Proxima Centauri in the 2070s.

The target of the small probes is the exoplanet Proxima Centauri b.
The target of the small probes is the exoplanet Proxima Centauri b.

NASA

Cost: $100 billion

NASA has now included the plan in its “Innovative Advanced Concepts” program. appeared. There is still a long way to go before implementation, but researchers are now receiving at least $175,000 to develop their concept in more detail.

Eubanks estimates the cost of the mission at about $100 billion. There is no doubt that there is a lot of money, but it is certainly manageable for a major power like the United States of America. Space enthusiasts Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos could pay for it entirely with their own assets if they commit to the project.