Advances in Microsatellite Propulsion Propel Deep-Space Exploration, Maneuverability (.PDF Download)

Aug. 15, 2017
Advances in Microsatellite Propulsion Propel Deep-Space Exploration, Maneuverability (.PDF Download)

The word far is an understatement when it comes to the vast distances between celestial bodies. The distance between the sun and our farthest planet Neptune is 2.7 billion miles—it would take astronauts roughly a dozen years to get there using current technology. The farther out into space you go, miles start to lose their meaning and light-years come into play. To put that into perspective, Alpha Centauri A/B, our closest neighboring star (actually, a binary system of two suns), is 4.3 light-years from Earth or roughly 25 trillion miles.

Suffice to say, it would take us around 137,000 years to get to our nearest neighbor, a lofty goal we could never reach by today’s technological standards. We would have to travel at the speed of light or close to it, to get there in a reasonable enough timeframe, something that is currently beyond our reach… or is it? An ongoing endeavor by Breakthrough Intiatives is looking at getting us our first poolside glimpse of Alpha Centauri and other neighboring stars in just 20 years by sending tiny microsatellites.

Founded and funded by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, Breakthrough Initiatives is an aspiring program centered on searching for intelligent alien life forms throughout the universe. The program is actually broken down into several projects to achieve this goal:

  • Breakthrough Listen: A program that will enable scientists to listen for alien signals utilizing thousands of hours of dedicated radio telescope time that includes Green Bank Observatory, Parkes Observatory, as well as visible light communication from the Automated Planet Finder. Scientists will search for intelligent signals from 1 million of the nearest stars and 100 of the closest galaxies.
  • Breakthrough Message: A $1 million competition to compose a message representing life on Earth that could be “read” or decoded by another civilization.
  • Breakthrough Watch: A multi-million dollar initiative to advance Earth and space-based technology to find nearby “Goldilocks” planets that could harbor life.
  • Breakthrough Starshot: Develop proof-of-concept of ultra-light unmanned space flight that can travel at 20% of the speed of light and lay the foundation for a flyby mission to Alpha Centauri within a generation.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Machine Design, create an account today!