Physics Department Seminar University of Alaska Fairbanks

J O U R N A L    C L U B


Breakthrough Starshot: Is it Feasible?

Mark Conde
Physics Department and Geophysical Institute, UAF



The starting point for any proposed experiment is an undergraduate-level "back of the envelope" feasibility study. As an example from physics, it is easy to show that detection of gravitational waves by any plausible laser interferometer is, by many orders of magnitude, quite impossible. Similarly, in biology, there are well known calculations demonstrating that bumblebees cannot fly and that kangaroos cannot hop. Emboldened by these successes, the purpose of this talk is to examine the feasibility of the recently-proposed "Breakthrough Starshot" initiative, which seeks to develop technology for sending small cell-phone sized spacecraft to the Alpha-Centauri system with a flight time of just 20 years, by accelerating the craft to 20% of light speed via radiation pressure from a large ground-based laser array. In this talk I will use mostly lower-division undergraduate techniques to examine the engineering requirements such a mission would have for the light-beamer system, light sails, spacecraft systems, and communications equipment. Results are not encouraging. Nevertheless, the recent discovery of a potentially habitable planet located "just" 4.2 light years away in orbit around the star Proxima Centauri does provide a very strong incentive for humanity to "just say no" to limits imposed by physics.


Friday, 23 September 2016

Globe Room, Elvey Building

3:45 PM