Text Size
Facebook Twitter More...

These are the journeys of the “StarChip Wafersize.”

UC Santa Barbara students sent up, via balloon, a prototype miniature spacecraft that might eventually become the “wafercraft” that researchers posit could be propelled by lasers to achieve space travel at relativistic speeds to reach nearby star systems and exoplanets.

So begins a journey, funded by NASA and several private foundations, that may one day lead to interstellar travel.

“It’s part of a process of building for the future, and along the way you test each part of the system to refine it,” said UC Santa Barbara physics professor and experimental cosmologist Philip Lubin. “It’s part of a long-term program to develop miniature spacecraft for interplanetary and eventually for interstellar flight.”

The prototype wafer scale spacecraft (WSS) is small enough to fit in the palm of one hand. It was launched into the stratosphere above Pennsylvania, to an altitude of 105,000 feet (32 km) three times that of commercial airplanes—to gauge its functionality and performance.

The launch was conducted in collaboration with the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis on April 12, 2019—58 years to the day that Russian cosmonaut and pilot Yuri Gagarin became the first human to complete orbital space flight.

“It was designed to have many of the functions of much larger spacecraft, such as imaging, data transmission, including laser communications, attitude determination and magnetic field sensing,” said Nic Rupert, a development engineer in Lubin’s lab. “Due to the rapid advancements in microelectronics we can shrink a spacecraft into a much smaller format than has been done before for specialized applications such as ours.”

To read more, click here.

Category: Science