Project Starshot

Lasers for interstellar flight, Dr B Brocklesby, University of Southampton

    Dr Bill Brocklesby spoke to the Year 12 Highcliffe Physics students about Project Starshot that he is hoping to be involved with in the near future. The proposal is to send a spacecraft to the nearest star with a chance of life around it; no small feat of engineering it must be said.


    The project, due to be completed in the next 30 years, is being partly funded by Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame amongst others. The hope is to propel a spacecraft a lot faster than the 24000mph (approximately 30 times faster than the speed of sound) needed to escape Earth. The method of propulsion is revolutionary, although the idea is nearly 100 years old.


    Currently 88% of a traditional rocket's mass, just to escape Earth, is the fuel load. To propel a spacecraft at a fifth of the speed of light, with traditional fuels, therefore, would be impossible.

    The idea is to use lasers that will shine onto a “sail” on the craft. This causes a chain of events resulting in the sail being pushed away from the light source. The students proved that even sunlight pushes down on us with a measurable force, although it is too small for us to notice.

    The project plans to fire incredibly powerful lasers that are 100 million, million times more powerful than a laser pointer, at the sail. The laser beam (hoped to be a 1km square) will accelerate the spacecraft from a stationary start to a distance of 3 million km in only 100 seconds meaning its speed would be one fifth of the speed of light - some very impressive figures!


    The planned lasers are made in a similar way to standard electronic components and therefore should be more affordable in the next few years! That said, 100 million small lasers will be needed, all working together and being focused, to steer the craft, which will not be a simple task. The challenge is apparently not the science involved in the lasers themselves, but the engineering needed to build the laser array and control its direction and power.


    The students asked all manner of questions to Dr Brocklesby, with a great buzz around the lab and some very deep thinking. With the project still in its early stages, we are all hoping to see the return of Dr Brocklesby from Southampton University with some good news!


    Owned by: PEV | Last Published: 04/01/2018 09:33:28 | Next Update: N/A


Project Starshot


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