Near-Term Interstellar Probes: Some Gentle Suggestions

May 26, 2017

When Greg Matloff’s “Solar Sail Starships: Clipper Ships of the Galaxy” appeared in JBIS in 1981, the science fictional treatments of interstellar sails I had been reading suddenly took on scientific plausibility. Later, I would read Robert Forward’s work, and realize that an interstellar community was growing in space agencies, universities and the pages of […]

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Mission Concepts: Bound Orbits around Other Stars

April 18, 2017

Can we use a laser array to get a fast probe to another star? Breakthrough Starshot relies upon the notion, which was first advanced by Robert Forward all the way back in 1962, and subsequently considered by George Marx in 1966, along with hosts of researchers since. With beamed energy we leave the propellant behind, […]

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Proxima Centauri: The Problem of Arrival

February 2, 2017

Given his key role in the development of sail ideas for interstellar flight, Robert Forward inevitably comes up in any discussion of deep space missions. The late physicist put forward a number of sail concepts and mission ideas, including a laser-driven lightsail to Epsilon Eridani with return capability that would travel at 50 percent of […]

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By ‘Photogravitational Assists’ to Proxima b

February 1, 2017

Given the distances involved, faster would always seem to be better when it comes to interstellar flight. Voyager, which took 12 years to get to Neptune and roughly 35 years to encounter the heliopause, would take 75,000 years to cross the 4.22 light years to Proxima Centauri. Voyager’s 17 kilometers per second clearly doesn’t cut […]

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Hubble Looks at Voyager’s Future

January 11, 2017

Nothing built by humans has ever gotten as far from our planet as Voyager 1, which is now almost 21 billion kilometers from Earth. We’ve talked about the future of both Voyagers before in these pages — Voyager 1 passes within about 1.6 light years of the star Gliese 445 in some 40,000 years, its […]

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Surviving the Journey: Spacecraft on a Chip

December 15, 2016

If Breakthrough Starshot can achieve its goal of delivering small silicon chip payloads to Proxima Centauri or other nearby stars, it will be because we’ve solved any number of daunting problems in the next 30 years. That’s the length of time the project’s leaders currently sketch out to get the mission designed, built and launched, […]

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Up Close at Alpha Centauri

December 6, 2016

In early December the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics offered as part of its fall colloquium series a talk by Harvard’s Avi Loeb, fortunately captured on YouTube as Project Starshot: Visiting the Nearest Star Within Our Lifetime. We’ve looked at Breakthrough Starshot in many posts on Centauri Dreams, including my reports from the last set of […]

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Breakthrough Starshot: Focus on the Sail

September 2, 2016

Who knows why and when we’re going to remember things? In the bus on the way to Moffett Field for the second morning of the Breakthrough Starshot meetings, I found myself thinking about Poul Anderson’s The Enemy Stars (1959). I had a paperback edition with a beautiful Richard Powers cover when I was a boy. […]

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Breakthrough Starshot Report 2: Drilling Down to the Basics

August 30, 2016

A lot of things can go wrong when you’re working on a thirty-year project. Consider the charter of the systems subcommittee of Breakthrough Starshot, whose mission is to “…ensure that Starshot engineering activities can and will result in a 0.2c mission to Alpha Centauri.” In the hands of the capable Kevin Parkin, the subcommittee has […]

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At the Breakthrough Starshot Meetings

August 29, 2016

An interesting typo — I had started to write ‘On the plane back from Proxima b,’ still a bit groggy from lack of morning coffee. Let’s correct that to ‘On the plane back from San Francisco.’ I was coming back from the Breakthrough Starshot meetings, most of which took place at Moffett Field, a former […]

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