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April 12, 2016

Hey, Let's Send Some Tiny Spaceships to Alpha Centauri, 4.37 Light Years Away. It'll Only Take 20 Years.

All right, I'm up for it.

The key is laser propulsion. The idea is that laser light has momentum. If you direct it at a sail, the laser will push the sail.

The little spaceships would have little sails. We'd aim the lasers at the sails from earth to propel them. The big, huge advantage is that the power supply and fuel and engines wouldn't be part of the spaceships; all of that mass would just sit home on earth. Basically it's like separating your engines and fuel tanks from your ship by a very, very long power cord made of laser light.

We could get them up to, it says, one fifth of the speed of light (!!!) before we lost focus with the lasers. And then they would just cruise the rest of the way.

0.2 c isn't a bad speed at all. Pretty zippy, actually.

In an attempt to leapfrog the planets and vault into the interstellar age, a bevy of scientists and other luminaries from Silicon Valley and beyond, led by Yuri Milner, the Russian philanthropist and Internet entrepreneur, announced a plan on Tuesday to send a fleet of robot spacecraft no bigger than iPhones to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system, 4.37 light-years away.

If it all worked out -- a cosmically big "if" that would occur decades and perhaps $10 billion from now -- a rocket would deliver a "mother ship" carrying a thousand or so small probes to space. Once in orbit, the probes would unfold thin sails and then, propelled by powerful laser beams from Earth, set off one by one like a flock of migrating butterflies across the universe.

Within two minutes, the probes would be more than 600,000 miles from home -- as far as the lasers could maintain a tight beam -- and moving at a fifth of the speed of light. But it would still take 20 years for them to get to Alpha Centauri. Those that survived would zip past the star system, making measurements and beaming pictures back to Earth.

They say the start-up for this "probably more than half a lifetime away."

I didn't read the article but I'm gonna guess the laser propulsion system itself has to be in orbit around the earth. You know, so it doesn't get all beaten up and defocused by the air.

So, we just need a big array of incredibly-pinpoint-accurately-targeted lasers in space.

"I'm listening," said CENTCOM.

No but seriously: Imagine if you had a bunch of lasers in space with super targeting ability.

Now imagine pointing those down at, say, al-Bagdadhi, head of ISIS.

Imagine further that each laser is harmless and passes through the human body without trace. But let's say you aim several of them so that their wavelengths overlap and amplify each other at a convergence point.

Let's say this convergence point is roughly in the middle of al-Bagdadhi's brain.

You know. Fun stuff.

Might even be undetectable, unless you're specifically looking for laser burns in the middle of the brain.

Anyway -- win win, as far as I'm concerned. Some lasers point out, and a few special little guys point down. *

* Chris McKnight just said "It would be like lazing a stick of dynamite" and then objected because he's a silly pleasureboy who never wants to do anything cool with lasers.

Thanks to @comradearthur.

The Falcon Has Landed: This happened last week, but stil worth watching -- the private spacecraft Falcon 9 staged a successful test of re-landing its rocket on an ocean platform.

Video of touchdown here.

Here's more recent vid of Falcon 9 coming back into port, to be moved to its launch site again.

Thanks to rickl.

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posted by Ace at 06:32 PM

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