I don’t know what this is about, but Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner are here in New York today, with a press conference downtown scheduled at noon, supposedly to announce a mysterious new space exploration initiative, to be called Starshot. There’s also evidently some sort of Columbia connection, with a reception scheduled up here. More later, when we find out what this is all about. Last year there was a Hawking/Milner announcement of Breakthrough Listen and Breakthrough Message, projects related to communication with alien civilizations.
Update: Livestream will be available here.
Update: According to this source (and Google translate…), this is a project to send a small space probe to Alpha Centauri.
Update: “Breakthrough Starshot” is a $100 million research program, hoping to develop (ultimate cost of order $10 billion) very small probes attached to light-sails, pushed towards Alpha Centauri by ground-based lasers (a “Silicon Valley approach to spaceflight”). The claim is that such things could travel at a significant fraction of the speed of light, get there in 20 years or so. One thing I’m not seeing is how you get a signal back to earth.
One thought about this is that if you really could accelerate probes this way with lasers, sending them out to solar system planets in days would seem to be a more interesting application.
Update: A more detailed story is here.