An illustration depicts the Breakthrough Starshot Nanocraft, revealed at a press conference on April 12, 2016. Credit: Breakthrough Prize Foundation (via Livestream)

The British physicist Stephen Hawking has his goal set – to send a small unmanned spacecraft to the nearest solar system.

Billionaire Yuri Milner is to invest $ 100 million in the project and even Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg will contribute.

“If we are to survive as a species we must ultimately spread out to the stars,” Hawking said.

The nearest star system is 40 trillion km (25 trillion miles) away. Using current technology it would take about 30,000 years to get there.

By sending a mini-spaceship, no bigger than a computer chip, with awnings, it is to travel at a speed of one fifth of the speed of light with the help of a laser beam directed at it. The idea is to launch a thousand of this mini-spacecraft into the Earth’s orbit, each with a solar sail.

“Technological developments in the last two decades and the future make it possible in principle within a generation.”

Using no propulsion of their own, they will instead be blasted by a powerful laser for several minutes, accelerating the crafts to a speed about 20 percent the speed of light.

The project called Breakthrough Starshot aims to build these light-propelled robotic spacecraft’s to visit the nearby star Alpha Centauri after a journey of just 20 years.

Once arriving at their designated destination, they will make measurements, take pictures and collect information to be sent back to Earth, probably using radio transmission, which is low in power recruitment.

According to astronomers, there is a possibility that a planet similar to Earth may reside in the Alpha Centauri system. But we will know more in the next two decades from coming more advanced and powerful ground based and space based telescopes.

Professor Hawking believes that what was once a distant dream can and must become a reality within 30 years.

“Life on Earth faces dangers from astronomical events like asteroids or supernovas”.

“There are no greater heights to aspire to than the stars. It is unwise to keep all our eggs in one fragile basket,” Hawking told BBC News.

Breakthrough Starshot