Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Nasa and Stephen Hawking are working on a nano-starship that can travel 1/5th the speed of light

Researchers have to figure out how to protect the craft from cosmic radiation

Feliks Garcia
New York
Saturday 10 December 2016 21:59 GMT
Nasa and Stephen Hawking are working on a nano-starship that can travel 1/5th the speed of light

Nasa researchers have joined forces with Stephen Hawking to build a nano-starship that can travel one-fifth the speed of light.

If successful, the ship, called “StarChip” could reach Earth’s closest star system, Alpha Centauri, in 20 years.

Stephen Hawking announced the Breakthrough Starshot project in April, for which he is joined by a team at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology. But whether the craft could survive a two decade-long trip remained in question.

That’s where Nasa can help. According to their researchers, high-energy radiation in space could cause the ship to cease functionality well before the 20-year trip was over, according to Science Alert.

Nasa proposed a number of options to pursue in the development stages of the project. They presented their findings at the International Electron Devices Meeting in San Francisco this week.

Four things you may not know about the speed of light

First, adjust the route of the flight to avoid those high-radiation areas. But that could add years to the voyage and would not necessarily protect the ship from degradation.

Second, they proposed the ship could be built with protective shielding on the electronics. But adding shielding to the ship would add to the size and weight and thus slow down the remarkable speed of the craft.

Third, Nasa researchers proposed a silicon chip that would automatically repair itself.

“On-chip healing has been around for many, many years,” Nasa team member Jin-Woo Han said in the presentation.

Still the research is only theoretical and researchers have significant work to do to address other major problems in interstellar travel.

“The limit that confronts us now is the great void between us and the stars,” Mr Hawking said in April. “But now we can transcend it. With light beams, light sails, and the lightest spacecraft ever built, we can launch a mission to Alpha Centauri within a generation.

“Today, we commit to this next great leap into the cosmos because we are human, and our nature is to fly."

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in