Everything You Need to Know About Project Starshot

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Answers by Simon Pete Worden, Chairman, Breakthrough Prize Foundation, Exec Director, Breakthrough StarShot, on Quora.

A: The StarShot Initiative is designed to enable mankind to send robotic probes to the nearest star within a generation. This will be mankind's first funded attempt to enable travel between star systems. It is a long-term research and development program, privately funded.

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A: The nanocraft have four small lasers on board powered by a nuclear isotope battery. The lightsail will be shaped to act as a telescope to direct the laser light from these small lasers back to earth. The images of the planets the nanocraft obtains flying through the Alpha Centauri System will be encoded as digical signals by these lasers. Over the next year of so after flying by the target star the images will be slowly transmitted back towards earth. After almost five years the large, one kilometer laser array that send the nanoprobes on their way will be used in reverse to collect and decode the laser signals from the nanoprobes. It will take at least several weeks for each image to be received.

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A: Stephen Hawking, Mark Zuckerberg and Yuri Milner serve as the board of directors for the StarShot project. The project staff, which I lead, along with the StarShot advisory board, led by Professor Avi Loeb from Harvard will prepare and submit proposed research programs to this board for approval. After approval we will write contracts and grants to perform the research -- most likely at many places around the world.

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A: We have conducted detailed cost analyses. It's clear that making the project affordable is one of the major challenges. The main cost-driver is building the beamer array. Today, laser and optics costs make this system unaffordable. However, for about a decade laser power had been increasing about a factor of two every few years. Correspondingly, the cost of lasers has been decreasing at a similar rate. Indeed, this trend is similar to the famous "Moore's Law" for computers. If this trend continues, and we have every reason to believe it will, within a decade or two the cost of the laser beamer array will be similar to large scientific projects such as the CERN particle accelerator -- about $10Billion.

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A: The Breakthrough Initiatives StarShot web site lists the 20-plus challenges. Anyone interested can suggest ways to address these challenges. That is the best way to get involved now. I note that not all of the challenges are technical -- some are policy and political. We need suggestions from people of all backgrounds. Within several months we will; announce opportunities and procedures to make proposals for involvement -- mostly through research contracts and grants.

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A: I certainly expect it to be successful in my lifetime and I'm 66 years old!

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