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$100 Million Starshot

April 15, 2016

Breakthrough Starshot is a $100 million program  aiming to demonstrate new technology for ultra-light unmanned spacecraft traveling at 20% of the speed of light, providing the potential for a flyby mission of Alpha Centauri within a generation. The gram-scale spacecraft consists of light sail a few hundred atoms thick embedded with a wafer carrying cameras, photon thrusters, power supply, navigation and communication equipment. A ground-based phased array laser at the 100 GW level would provide an impulse to the sail that accelerates it to the required speed for a 23-year mission.

The mission concept is described in detail in paper submitted to the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society (JBIS) by Philip Lubin of UCSB Physics Department. It is among the papers published by JBIS  the from the annual 100-Year Starship Congress . This was initiated in 2011 by NASA and the Advanced Research Projects Agency to encourage private development of technologies for interstellar travel in the next century. The Starshot is an example of such technology. It has gained increased attention with the detection of an Earth-sized planet around Alpha Centauri Beta, now a target for Starshot spacecraft.

The Breakthrough Initiatives were founded in 2015 by Yuri and Julia Milner to explore the Universe, seek scientific evidence of life beyond Earth, and encourage public debate from a planetary perspective. The Breakthrough Initiatives are a program of scientific and technological exploration, probing the big questions of life in the Universe: Are we alone? Are there habitable worlds in our galactic neighborhood? Can we make the great leap to the stars? And can we think and act together – as one world in the cosmos?

Breakthrough Listen is another  $100 million initiative spurring the search for evidence of intelligent life beyond Earth. It is the most comprehensive, intensive and sensitive search ever undertaken for artificial radio and optical signals. A complete survey of the 1,000,000 nearest stars, the plane and center of our galaxy, and the 100 nearest galaxies. All data will be open to the public.

Breakthrough Message is a $1 million competition to design a message representing Earth, life and humanity that could potentially be understood by an extraterrestrial civilization. The aim is to encourage humanity to think together as one world, and to spark public debate about the ethics of sending messages beyond Earth. [Firing a 100 GW laser at Alpha Centauri would seem to be a message to any inhabitants there or beyond: “Yoo-hoo! Is anyone there? We are on our way!”]