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MOSCOW, April 12. /TASS/. World-famous theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking and Russian businessman Yuri Milner on Tuesday announced the launch of $100 million space exploration project Breakthrough Starshot, sending a fleet of spacecraft to Alpha Centauri.
The fastest spacecraft needs some 30,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to the Solar system, but Breakthrough Starshot project’s ambition is to cover the distance in 20 years.
The solution, according to Milner, is "gram-scale nanocraft, on a sail pushed by a light beam" that can fly over a thousand times faster.
The project includes a collection of gram-scale nanocraft space ships, equipped with sensors, a laser to transmit information back to Earth, robotics to steer, and a camera. These space ships won’t be propelled by a rocket, but light itself.
The project has recently become possible owing to breakthroughs in technology. The mission requires a light sail, so the team will be able to build a sail that is only a few hundred atoms thick, a few meters wide. These light sails will be attached to the nanocraft and pushed by light. Than a light beam will be built strong enough to push these nanocraft up into space.
The program will be led by Pete Worden, the former director of NASA AMES Research Center, and the board will consist of Hawking, Milner, and Mark Zuckerberg.
Last year, Hawking and Miller announced Breakthrough Listen - the $100 million initiative to find signs of intelligent life in the universe. The program goes along with Breakthrough Message, crafting the best messages humanity could send to alien civilizations, while Breakthrough Listen is a 10-year search for extraterrestrial intelligence initiative.
Breakthrough Listen uses two of the most powerful telescopes on the planet to listen, across multiple frequencies, to the signals within the universe.