Breakthrough Starshot launches first satellite prototypes into space
The Breakthrough Starshot research programme co-launched by scientist Stephen Hawking has lifted off its first spacecraft prototypes into space.
As part of the launch, six cracker-size Sprites prototypes were launched into the low-Earth orbit, reported Business Insider.
Representing the world’s smallest fully-functional space probe, Sprites were launched as piggyback payloads on two OHB System nanosatellites, Max Valier and Venta.
Measuring a height and width of 3.5cm each, the 4g chips are loaded with solar panels, computers, sensors and radios.
The latest mission is designed to test how the Sprites’ electronics perform in-orbit and demonstrate their new radio communication architecture.
The chips are expected to bring new ideas in the field of spacecraft miniaturisation that can contribute to the development of centimetre-and gram-scale ‘StarChips’ envisioned by Breakthrough Starshot.
With the newly launched probes, the programme also aims to reach Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to Earth is located nearly 25.7 trillion miles away.
Researchers at Cornell University, US, built the Sprites, which are still attached to the two nanosatellites.
According to Breakthrough Starshot, the Sprites are performing as planned and are in radio communication with ground stations in California and New York, as well as amateur radio enthusiasts worldwide.
Hawking launched Breakthrough Starshot last April with Russian physicist and venture capitalist Yuri Milner.
The $100m research programme mainly aims to demonstrate proof-of-concept for light-propelled spacecraft that could fly at 20% of light speed and, in around 20 years after their launch, capture images and other measurements of the exoplanet Proxima B and other planets in Alpha Centauri.