Space Exploration will Rely on Tiny Satellites

image credit: via

image credit: via

Since the existence of man and civilizations, we have always been fascinated by the vastness of the skies above us. The stars shine down at night, reminding us of a universe that encompasses the limitations of our minds. That question that has lingered in the consciousness of humanity was always, “Are we really alone in this universe?”

Most astronomers and physicists will tell you that that may be highly unlikely. The expanse of the universe is incredibly unfathomable that our solar system is only but a grain of sand. But man’s attempt to unravel the secrets of the universe has never ceased. The development of space science has opened a gate of new opportunities in knowing the secrets of the universe.

Investments have been made on satellites, radio telescopes, observatories, rocket ships, space stations, and so much more just to seek about things that exist outside earth. The search for extraterrestrial life, habitable earth-like planets, and space phenomena has been at the center of interest amongst many scientists.

One such agency is SETI Institute or the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. SETI has been on the lookout for clues that point to the existence of alien life. Radio telescopes in the institute are always tuned in for any signs of communication from other possible life forms.

In 1977, SETI made a remarkable discovery when one of its telescopes, the Big Ear, has been receiving an unusually strong signals coming from the Chi Sagittari star cluster. These radio waves have been observed by Jerry Ehman who eventually circled the signal’s code and wrote the word “wow”. This eventually turned out to be a huge phenomenon at that time, thus giving birth to the term the “WOW signal.”

Almost 40 years have passed, and the signal still remains unexplained. Whether it came from an extraterrestrial civilization or not is still unknown as the case has yet to be solved.    

image credit: NASA via wikimedia commons

image credit: NASA via wikimedia commons

Breakthrough Starshot

Search for alien life continues for scientists. Decades after the space race and the moon landing that caused all the craze in the 70’s to the 80’s, an unusual group of people have decided to start a project that will push the conventions of space exploration. The unlikely pair of Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and celebrated American physicist, Stephen Hawking, has backed the developments of the Breakthrough Initiatives, a slew of programs that aim to redefine the way we explore the cosmos.

The website cites three major undertakings: Breakthrough Listen, Breakthrough Message, and Breakthrough Starshot. The description of each project are as follows:

“Breakthrough Listen is a $100 million program of astronomical observations in search of evidence of intelligent life beyond Earth. It is by far the most comprehensive, intensive and sensitive search ever undertaken for artificial radio and optical signals. A complete survey of the 1,000,000 nearest stars, the plane and center of our galaxy, and the 100 nearest galaxies. All data will be open to the public. ” 

“Breakthrough Message is a $1 million competition to design a message representing Earth, life and humanity that could potentially be understood by another civilization. The aim is to encourage humanity to think together as one world, and to spark public debate about and the ethics of sending messages beyond Earth.”

“Breakthrough Starshot is a $100 million research and engineering program aiming to demonstrate proof of concept for a new technology, enabling ultra-light unmanned space flight at 20% of the speed of light; and to lay the foundations for a flyby mission to Alpha Centauri within a generation.”

The boldest of the three projects is Breakthrough Starshot which involves an ambitious goal of sending tiny satellites to Alpha Centauri, around four light years away from Earth, in 20 years time. It plans to use lasers to propel these tiny satellites from earth to the next galaxy at 20% the speed of light.  

Sounds like an impossible mission, but Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has already joined the bandwagon in making this a reality. In fact, the creation of unmanned satellites has already begun.

KickSat’s Tiny Explorers

Breakthrough Starshot will rely on nanosatellite technology to propel them into our neighboring galaxy in the fastest way possible. And doing the work for this is Zac Manchester, the man behind KickSat, a spacecraft project that piloted the use of printed circuit boards as satellites.

In his prototype called the Kicksat Sprite, the palm-sized device already carries a gyroscope, magnetometer, radio, antenna, microcontroller, and solar cells. Each will be equipped with a light sail that will propel them towards Alpha Centauri through the use of laser beams.

Despite the initial fallbacks on the Kicksat project, Milner still showed a lot of interest on it. Manchester has been reported to be in talks with Milner in his Sprites.

If Breakthrough Starshot comes true, this will be the very first successful attempt to reach a neighboring galaxy.