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Russian Investor, Stephen Hawking Trying To Reach Distant Star System

British physicist Stephen Hawking

British physicist Stephen Hawking

Billionaire Russian investor Yury Milner and British cosmologist Stephen Hawking have announced a space initiative aimed at sending unmanned miniature ships to Alpha Centauri, a star-system 4.37 light years from Earth.

The two are behind the so-called Breakthrough Starshot team of scientists working to create a fleet of super-compact, light-propelled space vehicles or "nanocraft" -- each no bigger than a mobile phone.

They estimate it could take 20 years to reach Alpha Centauri from the time of the launch -- rather than the 30,000 years it would take with today's fastest spacecraft.

The plan calls for a giant laser array to propel the mini-probes -- which would deploy micro-sails like an "interstellar sailboat."

Milner said the first spacecraft is probably “half a lifetime away,” and billions of dollars of investment is needed to pay for the project.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, New York Times, and Daily Telegraph