In recent years, the theoretical and practical application of laser technology for space research has increased. As the push for manned and large craft exploration has slowed, due to costs, risks, and other challenges, finding alternatives is a priority for the numerous private and government funded operations with their eyes on the stars.
One of these proposed operations, known as the Breakthrough Starshot Initiative, wants to send miniature probes, propelled by lasers, to nearby star systems.
It is no secret that electronics are getting smaller. Much smaller. The probes proposed by the initiative would be approximately the size of a standard postage stamp, and weigh as much as a paper clip. On this tiny piece of tech, will be an even smaller communication laser, a nuclear battery, a micro-computer, and cameras.
A multitude of these ‘chips’ will be launched at once, using a “100 gigawatt laser blast from a ground-based light-beamer array.” To put it into perspective, this is nearly the same amount of power required for a space shuttle to reach liftoff. Within minutes, the chips would accelerate to a speed high enough to reach beyond Pluto, and into the next star system in approximately two decades.
There are a number of challenges limiting the Breakthrough Starshot Initiative. To safely launch the chips, the laser system will require a cool-down mechanism. The potential for the chips deteriorating over time is high, considering the conditions they may encounter in space travel. Precision and exact measurements are also key to the initiative’s success.
Like other theoretical space exploration proposals, the Breakthrough Starshot Initiative is still years away from actualization. However, the continued appearance of lasers in such concepts paints an exciting potential future for new laser-based applications. For more on the Breakthrough Starshot Initiative, check out the original infographic via Space.com here.