Breakthrough Starshot mission success to Proxima b may be more important than we think
Planet Proxima b, which is located in one of the closest to our solar systems, has become an achievable goal of the project Breakthrough Starshot. We do not know whether this "star shot" will show a planet suitable for human settlement, but it is definitely necessary for us to develop our own solar system.
Detection Proxima b
In August 2016, scientists discovered a potentially habitable planets the size of Earth, which revolves around the nearest stellar neighbor of the Sun: Proxima Centauri. This means that Proxima b is located at a distance of 4, 2 light-years from us. Scientists have tried to dig up more information about this planet, and hope that the James Webb telescope will give us a better look. However, the spacecraft sent to the planet, could gather enough data to show whether the planet can support life - or already supports.
Shortly before was found Proxima b, a group of scientists and businessmen has taken the first steps towards sending people to the Alpha Centauri system, stating the project Breakthrough Starshot. This international project, which is funded by Russian investor Yuri Milner in the amount of $ 100 million, should greatly speed up the research and development of sustainable space probe suitable for interstellar travel. Opening Proxima b provided achievable, but still challenging from an engineering point of view of the target. To achieve Proxima b within a single conventional scientist, the probe needs to move at a speed equal to one fifth of the speed of light or less. Then, passing by the Proxima system at a speed of 60,000 kilometers per second, it is necessary to collect useful data and transmit them over four light-years to Earth.
The first important step - to disperse the spacecraft to a sufficiently high speed. Conventional rockets can not store enough fuel to achieve the target speed, so Starshot will use laser light. Fixed Earth 100-gigawatt laser array will generate a beam, pushing a small probe sail after conventional missiles bail him out of our atmosphere.
The biggest risk is a collision with interstellar particles and cosmic rays. Starshot hopes to protect the ship, covering the leading edge of a millimeter high-strength material such as beryllium copper. To ensure that the probe will not get off course and not jeopardize the mission, it will be equipped with a pilot in the form of AI.
Scientists hope to run the machine in 2040 and then to wait for 20 years in 2060 on-board computer Starshot device must wake up, check with the Earth, make sure that the approaches to Proxima Centauri, and prepare for overflight.
A giant step
The highest priority for the machine - a picture, which shows a desert or a blooming green planet. She also shows major features, such as craters and mountains. And on-board spectrometer can look for molecules that talk about life, like methane, oxygen and more complex hydrocarbons. Tools can also probe the atmosphere (if it is), and measure the planet's magnetic field. Proxima b, as well as any other extrasolar planet, surely we will prepare a few surprises. Besides all this, the supporters of the mission Starshot see its potential success is more than the data of a new world - it will mark the exit of humanity to a new level of achievement. "I see Starshot opportunity for development," said Kelvin Long, a member of the Project Board. "It's like go to the moon."
In other words, Starshot success will give us a new set of features that will transform the study of the solar system from a dream into a routine. For example, a laser array, which is spoken in Starshot, can send probes anywhere in our solar system in a few days and make trips into space for a week or two.
"How to deliver a package from Amazon to Mars one day?" - says astrophysicist Philip Lubin, who is also a member of the project board. "This is a radical possibility that we might explore."