Avi Loeb Will Chair "Breakthrough Starshot" Advisory Committee
Monday, April 25, 2016
News Feature

On April 12, 2016, philanthropist and Internet entrepreneur Yuri Milner announced an ambitious plan called Breakthrough Starshot, whose goal is to send a fleet of tiny probes to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system. Traveling at one-fifth the speed of light, they would arrive 20 years after launch, making interstellar travel within our lifetimes possible.

Avi Loeb, chair of the Harvard astronomy department and director of the Institute for Theory and Computation within the CfA, will chair the Breakthrough Starshot advisory committee. Loeb participated in the press conference announcing the project. (Click here to watch a video of the press conference.)

Breakthrough Starshot is a $100 million research and engineering program aiming to demonstrate proof of concept for "nanocrafts," the size of a postage stamp and weighing a fraction of an ounce. These spacecraft would unfurl thin sails and be propelled by powerful laser beams shining from Earth's surface, pushing them to speeds of 100 million miles per hour, a thousand times faster than any current spacecraft.

They would carry miniaturized cameras and instruments and be capable of collecting data that can't be acquired from Earth. In particular, they could capture photographs of any planets in the Alpha Centauri system.

While such a mission will ultimately cost billions of dollars, Milner's initial $100 million investment will be directed to scientists and engineers to develop the technologies needed to make Breakthrough Starshot a reality.

Although technology advancements will be one practical benefit, Loeb pointed out during the press conference that the project will also be a source of inspiration. "Breakthrough Starshot will bring together the younger generation to work toward an exciting goal."

More details are available at