In yet another long-shot space exploration effort, Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner is backing the Breakthrough Starshot project with $100 million commitment to send a light beam to propel gram-scale ‘nanocraft’ that is aiming to reach Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to Earth, within 20 years of launch (1). Stephen Hawking and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg will both serve as advisors to Milner on his board of directors (1).
The science behind Breakthrough Starshot is based on developing laser beam technology. Milner believes that once his miniature satellites leave the Earth’s atmosphere, he will be able to convert sunrays into energy that will power his satellites to travel at a high velocity. Milner plans to leverage the miniature size of his satellites to fight the powerful force of gravity.
Yuri Milner is not alone in his quest for extraterrestrial exploration; there are many well-respected scientific minds and institutions that plan to aide Milner in his research. Milner’s quest for exploring new frontiers has drawn support from many institutions with similar motivations. For example, Cornell University researchers launched 100 prototype “chipsats” on July 6 to the International Space Station, where they will be deployed and tested for their ability to collect and transmit data and stay functional. After a few days of this, the miniature satellites will be allowed to drift off and burn up in the atmosphere (2). The scientific community is eagerly awaiting the results Cornell University will have to offer after their orbital research mission is concluded.
Although he is supported by some of the greatest intellectual minds in the world,
Milner will still run into countless technical problems down the road. Engineering complications and financial commitments will be two of Milner’s biggest threats to the success of his project.
The technology Milner plans to utilize in his venture is still in development and may take decades of research and billions in funding before any scientific conclusions can be made. Milner is certain that this project will take a minimum of a couple of decades, but he is convinced that his plan will send a robotic probe to Alpha Centauri successfully in this century (4).
Even if the team can overcome the technical problems they are faced with, there is no guarantee we will be seeing images of Alpha Centauri any time soon. The $100 million is only enough for research, not enough to fund the full mission, which will be a decades-long, multibillion dollar project on the scale of one of the world’s biggest scientific experiments ever (3).
Yuri Milner’s intellect enables him to foresee opportunities and explore new frontiers before others are even aware of their mere existence. When faced with challenges, Yuri is dynamic and utilizes calculated problem solving skills. Yuri Milner is a strategic, forward-thinking man, and will continue to fight physical and intellectual restrictions that may halt his quest to reach Alpha Centauri, “We have researched about 20 technical challenges, and we believe that none of those is insurmountable”, he says (3).
(1) Swisher, Kara. "Tiny Rockets to Alpha Centauri? Zuckerberg, Milner and Hawking in $100 Million Starshot Project to Launch 'Nanocraft.'" Recode. Vox Media, 12 Apr. 2016. Web. 08 July 2016.
(2) Patel, Neel V. "These ‘Chipsats’ Could Help Us Find Aliens on Alpha Centauri." These ‘Chipsats’ Could Help Us Find Aliens on Alpha Centauri. Space News, 5 July 2016. Web. 08 July 2016.
(3) Aron, Jacob. "Billionaire Pledges $100m to Send Spaceships to Alpha Centauri." New Scientist. Daily News, 12 Apr. 2016. Web. 08 July 2016.
(4) Rittenhouse, Lindsay. "Billionaire Yuri Milner Explains $100 Million Extraterrestrial Search." TheStreet. TheStreet, Inc., 01 July 2016. Web. 08 July 2016.
Image: © Mihai-bogdan Lazar | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-star-field-messier-m39-image25664009#res14972580">Star field with M39</a>