How a Beam of Pellets Could Blast a Probe Into Deep Space
That said, he expects that the futuristic project could take more than a half-century to realize. It poses a few ambitious physics and engineering challenges, including the development of such a massive laser, the construction of a lightsail that can handle that much power without disintegrating, and the design of the minuscule spacecraft and an instrument for communicating back to Earth. There’s an economic challenge as well, Worden points out: determining whether all the pieces can be put together for an “affordable amount of money.” Though the initial funding is for $100 million, they are aiming for a total price tag of around $10 billion, akin to what it cost to build the James Webb Space Telescope, or a few billion more than the Large Hadron Collider. “We’re cautiously optimistic,” he says.
So Davoyan decided to explore an intermediate option. His project would involve a smaller laser (one a few meters across) and a shorter acceleration distance. If they’re successful, he thinks his team’s concept could be powering deep-space probes in less than 20 years.