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Wed Jun 9, 2021, 02:28 AM

Interstellar mission powered by lasers

9 June 2021/
Lauren Fuge

Researchers present new spacecraft design for the Breakthrough Starshot project.

Credit: Breakthrough Initiatives

Australian researchers have just designed a propulsion system for an interstellar mission to shoot a spacecraft off to one of our closest stellar neighbours – using 100 million lasers.

The research team at the Australian National University (ANU) are answering the call of the Breakthrough Starshot project for an ultra-light spacecraft that uses “light sail” technology. The ambitious mission aims to send this interstellar traveller zooming across tens of trillions of kilometres of space to reach Alpha Centauri, the second-closest star to the Sun – within just 20 years.

For reference, the spacecraft currently furthest away from Earth is Voyager 1, which is only around 22 billion kilometres away, just outside our solar system – and it was launched in 1977. Even with the conventional spacecraft technology we have today, it would take more than 100 lifetimes to reach the nearest stellar systems.

But ANU astrophysicist Chathura Bandutunga, lead author of the new study, says their laser propulsion system could be the answer to this cosmic conundrum.


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