Scientists are working to develop tech that can travel at up to 20 percent the speed of light, but the ships making the journey won’t be anything you’d want to take for a ride.
Gizmodo reports a mission is set for this summer to launch 100 floppy-disk-sized “Sprite” Kicksat-2 devices from the International Space Station for testing, and researchers believe these relatively cheap little craft could be just the thing to fire off a high speeds to explore the galaxy. Assuming they can figure out a few more of the technological logistics, a “Sprite” built by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner (who is spearheading development of the technology) could potentially reach Alpha Centauri within 20 years.
Yeah, you read that right — one of these devices could make it to the nearest star in approximately two decades, which is pretty much the blink of an eye in cosmic proportions, especially considering anyone who tried to mount a manned mission that far would die of old age before getting anywhere close.
“A chipsat is never going to replace a big [spacecraft], but it can do exciting new things like land on a planet,” Brett Streetman, an aerospace engineer with the Cambridge-based nonprofit Draper, told Gizmodo. “We imagine sending them to places where you wouldn’t want to risk sending your normal spacecraft, or leveraging the physics of getting that small.”
We might still have a long way to go until we can build our own fleet of starships, so these “Sprites” could be our best shot at exploring the cosmos in the meantime.