Plan to Explore Proxima Centauri For Decades Usings Thousands of Chipsats

Hbar Technologies looks at using Breakthrough Starshot laser acceleration to reach Proxima Centauri and then use antimatter propulsion to decelerate. This would not be a flyby mission where a mission would pass through the solar system at 10% of the speed of light. A ten-kilogram spacecraft would have a decades-long exploration and scientific data return solar. Scientific data from Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud object weekly flybys are anticipated starting within a few years of launch.

The proposal assumes a peak spacecraft velocity of 10% of the speed of light. Once launched out of Earth’s gravitational well, the remaining spacecraft is composed of two stages. The first stage accelerates the spacecraft to 0.1c, detaches from the second stage, and performs a smaller perpendicular burn to deflect its trajectory toward the Alpha Centauri AB binary system for a flyby of that solar system. The second stage decelerates a scientific payload and provides power and support during a decades-long period of exploration.

Once decelerated, the scientific probe attached to the second stage would navigate the Proxima Centauri star system. The primary mission objective is orbital insertion around the confirmed habitable zone planet Proxima b, though other missions such as red dwarf observations and searches for other planets, asteroids, and comets would also be likely priorities. For example, given that Alpha Centauri AB has a combined mass approximately double that of our own sun, it is likely that Proxima Centauri orbits that binary within the Alpha Centauri AB Oort Cloud. As a result, cometary activity might be quite different from that of our own solar system. Such an unmanned mission will require unprecedented levels of redundancy, artificial intelligence, communication bandwidth, and hence onboard electrical power. Because these power demands represent such a small fraction of the required deceleration system power generation capacity, the propulsion systems are designed to efficiently generate electrical power and navigational thrust for decades of exploration.

In this mission architecture both the first and second stages are equipped with approximately one thousand, gram-scale chipcraft similar to those proposed by Breakthrough Starshot. These chipcraft are technically much more modest in every aspect, since they only operate for weeks after separation from either stage. These chipcraft are accelerated away from their originating stages in the direction transverse to the mission trajectory. The chipcraft then perform close flybys of objects on the time scale of one per week. Especially in the case of the Oort Cloud, a powerful LIDAR system is needed to illuminate, identify and track flyby candidates. This laser, which is proposed to also be the communication link back to Earth, is additionally used to accelerate the chipcraft and to periodically power (recharge) them via onboard chipcraft photovoltaics. These chipcraft also serve as planetary entry probes once in orbit around Proxima b. In addition, by judicious choice of wavelength the LIDAR system provides topographical imaging of the Proxima b surface even in the case of extensive cloud cover.

Charged particle, dust, and magnetic field sensors will map the composition of the interstellar void between our sun and Proxima Centauri. The similarly instrumented first stage will make the same measurements all the way through the Alpha Centauri binary solar system and beyond.

Near Term Antimatter Related Propulsion

The best ideas for using antimatter for propulsion are to generate antimatter using isotopes. The antimatter is used immediately to catalyze fusion. The work is by Positron Dynamics. Positron Dynamics is not part of the Hbar NASA NIAC work. Positron Dynamics would need to be made to work, scaled up, and then miniaturized to work in the HBar deceleration architecture.

11 thoughts on “Plan to Explore Proxima Centauri For Decades Usings Thousands of Chipsats”

  1. I really don’t understand how they can get all that into a box weighing 10 kg, without said box melting?
    Not to mention a computer that advanced, that can survive for 45 years in interstellar radiation.

  2. They should definitely start with probes of outer solar system bodies. Ie: something that can be done with relatively near term technology. Then aim at Kuiper Belt object & later Oort cloud.
    Interstellar is just too big a leap from what is currently doable.

  3. A few years back I dumped a bunch of comments about using the Long shot laser to push a train of flyby probes.

    With the in-flight assembly of some into larger arrays for long distance sensing and communication, a constant stream of data could be relayed back to Earth along the oncoming sails.

    I’ve been thinking that a sail designed to unravel its edges into long conductive strands could decellerate using the target stars solar wind.

    Even to enter eccentric orbits around the star, looping back through its orbital plane over and over.

  4. I’ve wondered about the Tunguska event as being the impact of a relativistic probe sent from a curious group of aliens.

    Considering the long stretch of human history as primitives compared to the brevity of our technical sophistication, any postage-stamp- cloud-of-destruction we might rain down on an unexpected culture would more likely be seen as an act/message of the Gods.

    Not an alien attack; intentional or not.

    Odds are.

  5. Yes, that was my take as well. So long as the ‘standard bar’ at the Science News journalism office is measured in micrometers, even gnats might leap-and-clear them.

    Though everyone’s probably tired of it by now, “If we had bacon, we could have bacon and eggs! … if we had eggs…” fits.  If only that unicorn-and-gnarly-yew wand could conjure forth the compact, cheap, decades-reliable, featherweight antimatter thruster. If only.

    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

  6. ⊕1 of course

    But a few calculations.  Assuming, 40 AU and 100 kilotons, all at once (“bomb”)…

    40 AU × 149.5×10⁹ m/AU = 5.98×10¹² m distance
    4πD² = 4.5×10²⁶ m² anisotropic shell area, at 40 AU (Pluto’s mean orbit)

    100 kt × 4.186×10¹² J/kt = 4.186×10¹⁴ J
    4.186 J ÷ 3×10⁻¹⁹ J/photon = 2.1×10³² ph
    2.1×10³² ph ÷ 4.5×10²⁶ m² = 465,000 ph/m² (at Earth observing station)

    465,000 × (π 0.005² m²) = 24 photons, entering EYE.

    Well, needless to say, 24 photons isn’t going to get one’s Human eye’s attention.  A brief ‘bink’. Then gone, from someplace absolutely anywhere across the whole sky.  

    I’d take a bet that … in any steradian of the night sky, there are millions of these binks … per hour.  Astronomers chalk them up to ‘sensor noise’, but they’re there.  

    So, kilotons of TNT wouldn’t likely be enough to cause much alarm to the space aliens, let alone the irascible Earthlings on this end. Maybe gigatons, sure. Still there’s that ‘across the entire expanse of the night sky’. Maybe gigatons, all fired off from the same deceleration zone, over a few days time, might get attention. But TOO FAR to image (at 40 AU) to see exactly what glittered over that few-day period.  

    Just a bunch of irresolvable dots.  
    IF one catches them at all.  

    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

  7. there’s no need we’re just thinking small, we can make optical arrays over much larger distances in space then is possible on earth. An optical array segment lens wider than earth its possible, and the eventual cost is lower then burning laser all the time, best of all its possible to focus to other planets. (there are even some who would like to use planet gravitational distortion as a lens.

  8. This also sprang to mind.

    An antimatter rocket suddenly appearing at the edge of the solar system (HUGE energies, at least nuclear bomb level) and spraying thousands of robots everywhere with high powered lasers shooting back and forth…

    I know that Earthlings would respond in a highly negative manner.

    Fortunately the Proxima Centauri star system is being studied very closely by all sorts of telescopes, spectrometers etc. While we can of course be completely surprised by what form alien life takes, we would already be very aware if any of the planets there have Earth like biochemistry in abundance.

  9. Nice mission plan, except for the huge, hand waving, black box of “and here we’ll put an anti-matter system that can provide 0.1C deltaV and enough power to communicate over light years”

    That’s kind of the entire crux of the problem, and they just skip over that part. No, the original linked article doesn’t provide any information either.

    Sure, once you’ve got an antimatter system that can provide 0.1C deltaV and enough power to communicate over light years, then of course you can design all sorts of cool space missions.

    But outside of a star trek script you kind of have to do the hard work of actually inventing that first. No good spending your time designing the cool space mission first.

  10. Fascinated at the idea of flinging a load of micro-satellites into an alien solar system and then just spraying them as an ‘orbital insertion’ onto the habitable zone planet atmosphere. Do they review these plans that may be perceived as hostile or disruptive to the local ‘orbital ecosystem’. Would we know if there are there any ecosystems or unique atmospheric chemistries or even organic signatures before reaching orbit?

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