Can We Go to Other Stars with Today's Technology?

Is exploration of other star-systems possible within our lifetimes? Right now, even?

At first thought, the answer is probably "no." We are still trying to figure out how to get people to Mars, after all, without killing them. We can get robots there, and out past the boundary of our own solar system (i.e. Voyagers 1 &2), but given that it will take Voyager something like 10,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri, the goal of sending a probe to our nearest galactic neighbor seems impossible.

It is not.

Dr. Philip Lubin of the University of California Santa Barbara gave a talk at the National Institute of Aerospace Fall Symposium in which he described a system called DEEP IN. What is that? Summarizing, it's using a directed stream of photons against a space craft to achieve .30c (that's 30% the speed of light) travel. He claims to be able to do this now, today, with today's technology, and he further claims that it is scaleable so that the system will work for anything from a cubesat-sized object or smaller up to a shuttle-sized object.

It's exciting news. Dr. Lubin claims that we could put a probe in the Alpha Centauri system within 17 years of its launch. The only thing we need is the will, and a large-mass laser in orbit. Okay, that's sort of a big catch. The mass of the laser generator he proposes is larger than that of the International Space Station, but it's not something that's outlandish in terms of ability.

Here is the explanation in Dr. Lubin's own words from

In the full talk, which can be accessed here (along with a few others), Dr. Lubin claims it could take up to 50 years to build the system, which is a pity because barring some advancements in nanotechnology I likely won't be around to see it, but some of you might. Given the rate of technological advancement, 50 years from now we might even have a better propulsion system and be able to send people to Alpha Centauri. Either way, I find the thought of what we might find when we start exploring other systems is inspiring.


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