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.