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To the stars! #2: Mountaintop lasers, rockets, optics and wafers? Or something else?

The idea of using an array of lasers to focus a beam and propel a spacecraft, "beamed propulsion," recently received a major boost with the announcement that entrepreneur and Philanthropist Yuri Milner has committed $100 Million to a "research and engineering program [that] will seek proof of concept for using light beam to propel gram-scale ‘nanocraft’ to 20% light speed." (See this previous question for background.)

The plan outlined in the funding announcement closely mirrors the roadmap laid out in a paper by Philip Lubin at UC Santa Barbara that was posted last year. It calls for:

1) An accelerating system comprised of:

  • A kilometer-scale Earthbound phased array of lasers

  • Facility to store and discharge Gigawatts of energy to drive the beam

  • A conventional rocket system that would deliver many "nanocrafts" to high-altitude orbit

  • Using adaptive optics to compensate for atmospheric distortions in the beam array

2) A design for ultra-light miniaturized probes with:

  • Super-reflective coating and high surface/mass ratio.

  • Ability to withstand collisions with interplanetary and interstellar dust grains

  • Ability to capture and store images and other scientific data

  • Ability to transmit data back to Earth from great distances using an onboard laser

While this plan has a lot of thinking behind it, many plans change when confronted with experimental reality. Here we ask for an assessment of the probability that a major component of this plan will change. Such changes could include, for example,

  • Using a space-based laser (or other) system

  • Using a millimeter wave or microwave system rather than optical/IR system

  • Relatively larger spacecraft (e.g. meter-scale or above)

This question resolves positively if, on June 1, 2018, a description of the initiative found on the website of (a) a for-profit or nonprofit organization created to house this project, or (b) an institution or center receiving more that $10M in funding from the project, describes the project in a way that qualitatively differs from its initial announcement, at the level of the above potential changes.

(Note: this question may be updated soon after launch to make sure that the listing accurately reflects the initial plan of the project.)


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