Lasers to Alpha Centauri

Last week for Slate I wrote about the ambitious proposal to send small spacecrafts dubbed “starchips” to the Alpha Centauri system. This was a fun article that was actually months in the making, though the news of $100 million funding seemed to come out of nowhere.

I first learned of Phil Lubin’s ideas to use lasers for interstellar travel at the 100 Year Starship symposium last fall. The conference was full of zany proposals, but Lubin’s seemed, somehow, to not be as crazy as some others. PhotonRocketbyGGZelkinHis explanations were clear and he acted as surprised as anyone that the physics of relativistic travel for small, laser-propelled spacecraft was sound. (He shopped his calculations around to physicist far and wide–the crankier critic the better–and no one could prove any show stoppers.)

Skeptics will say that laser-based space travel will never get enough money to actually fly. I suspect this might be the case. Still, there’s no doubt it’s an inspired and inspiring idea.

Check out the Slate article here.

Check out Lubin’s extensive roadmap for interstellar flight here.

Check out this fun article from 1960 about a different but related kind of photon propulsion here.

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