Breakthrough Starshot takes its first step toward interstellar travel

First … low Earth orbit. But eventually, these chip-sized spacecraft could explore Proxima Centauri.
By | Published: August 2, 2017 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
Breakthrough Starshot is aiming for the nearby Alpha Centauri system: Pictured here, Alpha (left), Beta (right), and Proxima (circled in red) Centauri.
Skatebiker at English Wikipedia
The first big step to making humans an interstellar species is underway.

Breakthrough Starshot wants to accelerate small spacecraft to a good fraction of the speed of light to send probes to a nearby star in a human lifetime. Last week, the company announced that the first tests of its spacecraft had taken place when a few single-circuit board Sprite crafts hitched a ride on a satellite launch.

The Sprites seemed to be functioning relatively well for an initial flight. They experienced some communications hiccups, according to Scientific American, meaning the communications equipment may need some work over time.

But this is just a small hiccup — the Sprites are just prototypes of the “StarChips” that will eventually launch several decades from now. The goal is to strap a microweight space probe onto a star sail, then fire a laser at it repeatedly. This will accelerate it to around 20 percent the speed of light. Starshot plans on sending several at a time, increasing the odds that one or more will make it to their final destination in the Alpha Centauri system.

But first, the small chips will need to be packed with a camera, a power source, a transmitter, and more; this process is still under development. Still, the Sprites are an important first step. The prototype has been built. Now, it’s just time to scale it up so we can head to the stars.