The plan to reach Alpha Centauri in 20 years and become an interstellar civilization

The goal is to travel the 4.36 light years that separate us from Alpha Centauri in just two decades, instead of the 6,000 years it would take with current technology.

In 2021, humanity completed its first 60 years exploring space. Although for our species six decades can mean a lifetime, it is a minute period of time on a cosmic scale.

Ingenuity and curiosity to explore have led us to launch unmanned probes to learn more about the different rocky worlds of the Inner Solar System and the outer gas giants. The Voyager space probes (the furthest-traveled human object in history) have been moving away from Earth for 44 years and are about to reach the limits of our cosmic neighborhood; however, they have barely traveled less than one millionth of the Milky Way.

Faced with the vastness of time and the vastness of space, the idea of ​​making humanity an interstellar civilization still belongs more to the realm of science fiction than to reality. However, a new initiative proposes power spacecraft with laser beams to reach Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to the Sun in less than 20 years.

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Its about Breakthrough Starshot project, an ambitious spacecraft propulsion system based on one hundred million laser beams emitted from Earth, developed by a team from the Australian National University (ANU).

Alpha Centauri is located at an average distance of 4.36 light years from the Earth, a distance that with current technology is insurmountable. Even at the fastest speed achieved in the 21st century to explore space, it would take 6 thousand years for reach one of the three stars that make up the system.

“Once on its way, the sail will travel through the vacuum of space for 20 years before reaching its destination. During its flyby of Alpha Centauri, it will record images and scientific measurements that it will transmit to Earth, ”explains Chathura Bandutunga, lead author of the study.

Although the team in charge of the study developed an algorithm that will allow uuse a satellite as a matrix to guide momentum and ultralight sail travel, work still needs to be done on the design of the spacecraft, as well as correcting the distortions of the rays typical of the Earth’s atmosphere.

“Our proposal uses a laser guide star. It is a small satellite with a laser that illuminates the matrix from Earth orbit. As the laser guide star passes through the atmosphere on its way back to Earth, it measures the changes due to the atmosphere, ”explains Michael Ireland, a professor at the ANU in this regard.

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