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article imageStephen Hawking, NASA, working on fastest spaceship ever built

By Arthur Weinreb     Dec 12, 2016 in Science
Stephen Hawking and NASA are teaming up to send a tiny spaceship to Alpha Centauri. If the problems can be worked out, it will take about 20 years for the ship to reach the star system closest to the Earth.
Dubbed “Project Starshot,” NASA will be working with Hawking and venture capitalist Yuri Milner to send the ship, known as StarChip, to Alpha Centauri. The tiny ship or nanocraft would be able to travel at one-fifth the speed of light or 134 million m.p.h. This speed is about 1,000 times faster than the speed an ordinary spaceship can travel. In order for the ship obtain this speed and reach Alpha Centauri, it would be hit with lasers from Earth. If all goes according to plan, the trip to Earth’s nearest star system would take about 20 years. The nanocraft will have the ability to take pictures and record other data.
Wired reports the size of this nanocraft would be about the same as a smartphone.
NASA’s role in the project is to solve the problem of protecting the ship from damage caused by high-energy radiation. NASA has several options to deal with cosmic radiation and these choices were presented in San Francisco last week at the International Electron Devices Meeting.
One option is to choose a route for the tiny ship that minimizes radiation levels. But this would add years to the time it would take to reach Alpha Centauri and there will be no guarantee the ship will avoid radiation damage. A second option is add more shielding to the ship to provide better protection from cosmic radiation. But this would add significant weight to the tiny vessel that again would drastically slow down the time it would take to reach the star system. The third option, the one that sounds the most promising, is to use a self-healing silicon chip that would automatically repair the damage caused by radiation.
According to NASA scientist, Jin-Woo Han, on-chip healing has been around for years. The chip would occasionally power down, allowing the nanocraft to heal.
Hawking has said even though Earth is a wonderful place it will not last forever and we will have to look to the stars. A planet, named Proxima B, has been discovered in the Alpha Centauri system. Described as an Earth-like planet it orbits its sun at a habitable distance and has a surface temperature that allows for water, making the exoplanet capable of supporting life.
StarChip is still in the research stage. The cost of sending the nanocraft on its journey to Alpha Centauri is estimated to be $100 million.
More about Stephen Hawking, alpha centauri, proxima b, nanocraft, NASA
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