Breakthrough Starshot is an ambitious project that plans to send a ship to Alpha Centauri. The destination should be reached in twenty years.
Harvard scientists published an analysis showing that the ship will eventually resist the damage produced by the collision with portions of gas and dust.
Breakthrough Starshot Program
The Breakthrough Starshot program is led by the billionaire Yuri Milner, by the famous physicist Stephen Hawking and by Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook.
The Starshot involves a mother spacecraft that will carry a thousand nanocrafts that will be deployed them out in the space.
The aim of the trip to Alpha Centauri is to prove the capacity of light beams to move a nanocraft at 20 percent the speed of light. The mission will include capturing images of planets and other data from Alpha Centauri.
Alpha Centauri is the star system nearest to Earth. To reach it, the spacecraft will need to travel 20 years through space.
Harvard Study on Particle Collision
The issues may rise because of the small size of the ship. In the case of conventional probes, the speck of dust would just clear off the surface. When it comes to such a tiny ship, that accelerates to a fifth the speed of light; dust collision could be catastrophic. The spacecraft could be damaged even by individual atoms.
The Harvard study follows the effects of the dust and gas on the nanocraft and identifies twenty factors that need to be controlled before the mission begins.
The scientists discovered that the small probes would be hit by heavy atoms that will heat the nanocrafts and will form craters on their surface.
When it comes to interstellar gas, the impact will be much less important. The only danger will be encountering a single grain with a size larger than a hundredth of a millimeter. However, most gas particles have a size under the dangerous threshold.
The solution is to add a layer of graphite to the front of the nanocraft to protect it from heat. Another improvement would be to make the light sails to be foldable and movable, in order to retract them when necessary. This way, the acceleration may be easier to control.
The technical changes will add more weight to the nanocraft, which will change the initial calculations. Each StarChip would weigh just a few grams.
Alpha Centauri is situated at a distance of 4.3 light-years from Earth, and it consists of three stars. From our planet, the three stars appear to be just one, being the third brightest star in the sky.
Image Source: Wikipedia