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Breakthrough Starshot Sprites Yearn For Alpha Centauri

Breakthrough Starshot has successfully prototyped and demonstrated their ultra-fast light-driven nanocrafts.


(Breakthrough Starshot video)

Known as “Sprites”, the miniature satellites are just 3.5cm x 3.5cm and carry radios, sensors and computers, with each device powered by sunlight and weighing just four grams.

“This is a new frontier of tiny, gram-scale spacecraft” said Professor Avi Loeb of Harvard University, chair of the advisory committee for the Breakthrough Starshot Initiative.

The Sprites, Loeb adds, are also cheap. “Each of them is only tens of dollars in cost,” he said.

“The reason one needs to push the weight down is because in order to reach the nearest stars within our lifetime, the spacecraft needs to move at a fraction of the speed of light – a fifth of the speed of light or so,” said Loeb.

While Sprites have previously been carried on board the International Space Station, this is the first demonstration that it is possible to launch such a lightweight miniaturised satellite into space and communicate with it.

Compare with this earlier effort Laser-Powered Spacecraft To Explore The Solar System. I'd also point out the somewhat heavier but extremely cool CubeSats Miniature Satellites With Mini-Thrusters.

Science fiction duo Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle wrote about laser cannon as a way to power spacecraft in their 1974 novel Mote in God's Eye, which provided ground-based power to space craft:

..."The intruder came from here. Whoever launched it fired a laser cannon, or a set of laser cannon - probably a whole mess of them on asteroids, with mirrors to focus them - for about forty-five years, so the intruder would have a beam to travel on...
(Read more about laser cannon)

The basic idea for this propulsion system belongs to American physicist and science fiction writer Robert L. Forward, who published a short paper Ground-Based Lasers For Propulsion In Space in 1961.

Via Breakthrough Starshot and The Guardian.

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