The dream of traveling to another star system, and maybe even finding populated worlds there, is one that has preoccupied humanity for many generations. But it was not until the era of space exploration that scientists have been able to investigate various methods for making an interstellar journey. While many theoretical designs have been proposed over the years, a lot of attention lately has been focused on laser-propelled interstellar probes.
The first conceptual design study, known as Project Dragonfly was hosted by the Initiative for Interstellar Studies (i4iiS) in 2013. The concept called for the use of lasers to accelerate a light sail and spacecraft to 5 percent the speed of light, thus reaching Alpha Centauri in about a century. In a recent paper, one of the teams that took part in the design competition assessed the feasibility of their proposal foralightsail and magnetic sail.
The paper, titled "Project Dragonfly: Sail to the stars," was recently published in the scientific journal Astra Astronautica. The study was led by Tobias Häfner, a graduate of the Université Paul Sabatier (UPS) Toulouse and a current system engineer at Open Cosmos Ltd. He was joined by members of Oxford Space Systems, the Graduate University for Advanced Studies (SOKENDAI), and AKKA Technologies.
When it comes to interstellar mission concepts, one of the biggest stumbling blocks has always been the travel time involved. As we showed in a previous article, it would take anywhere from 1,000 to 81,000 years using current technology to get to Alpha Centauri. While several theoretical methods exist that could offer shorter travel times, they either involve physics that have yet to be proven or would be prohibitively expensive.