NASA has announced it will build a ‘nano-starship’ that can travel one-fifth the speed of light, the Independent reports. The proposed craft will be a very small, centimetre-sized, gram-scale, interstellar spacecraft.
They said they will be joining forces with Stephen Hawking on the project which, if successful, will see a ship built that could reach Earth’s closest star system, Alpha Centauri, in 20 years.
It has also been announced that it will be called ‘StarChip’, which is obviously a terrible name. There again I guess it can only go a fraction of the speed of the Millennium Falcon, so it’s only worthy of a name that’s a fraction as good.
Stephen Hawking announced the project in April and is joined by a team at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology for the research.
“The limit that confronts us now is the great void between us and the stars,” Mr Hawking said. “But now we can transcend it. With light beams, light sails, and the lightest spacecraft ever built, we can launch a mission to Alpha Centauri within a generation.
“Today, we commit to this next great leap into the cosmos because we are human, and our nature is to fly.”
Sadly, scientists don’t see it reaching Alpha Centauri using current technology, as high-energy radiation in space would cause the ship to conclude functionality well before the 20-year trip was over. At the International Electron Devices Meeting in San Francisco this week, several solutions to the problem were proposed by NASA.
The first option according to the team would be to get around the radiation problem by adjusting the route of the flight through space that minimizes exposure to cosmic radiation, which would make the trip slower, but might not prevent degradation.
Another option was to add shielding to the electronics to reduce damage caused by cosmic rays. The downside of this is that adding shielding to the ship would slow down the speed of the craft.
Lastly, NASA researchers proposed using silicon chip that would automatically repair its radiation damage en route to Alpha Centauri.
For the moment it seems the ‘nano-starship’ is still only a theory and researchers have major work to do to address other major problems in interstellar travel.