Yuri Milner — RBC: “let’s make a spaceship weighing in grams”

— Why do you want to build a nano ship, not manned spaceship, for example?

— When most people think of interstellar travel, it seems to them like in Star wars: a huge ship flying through a wormhole at the speed of light, which is a lot of interesting things going on. But this topic is a non-starter in advance, because of the huge size of the thing impossible to accelerate. Even in the presence of those energy sources, which we don’t have.

What is the main problem of interstellar travel — no engine, which would be adequate to the task. People thought on the subject of fusion energy, antimatter, there are only three or four options. One of them is the solar sail, a photon. The problem in all other versions — we simply have no scientific basis. We cannot yet, even on earth use nuclear fusion energy, still does not work, and we have no idea where to take as much antimatter, where it is retained, and so on. We rested in a fundamentally scientific problems.

More fundamentally scientific problems was not, there were technical problems: the sail and fly the spaceship were always very heavy. And where to get more photons, it is not clear, and the sun is not enough. The whole issue was in a frozen state and it was believed that for several hundred years this was not to worry.

— What has changed now?

The answer lay in an unexpected direction, namely: let’s make a spaceship is very small. So small that it will weigh a few grams or one gram. And also make a very easy sail. And if this can be done, the problem gets completely solved. And why is it possible — over the last 15 years there has been progress in the field of microelectronics, which mainly applied to mobile phones and other devices.

Take the camera — she in the last ten years is 100 times cheaper and 100 times reduced in size, approximately. Right now on Amazon you can buy a camera for $10, which will weigh few grams. This happened not only with cameras but also with other devices, which should be on any self-respecting spaceship. Mini-engines that operate on photons, battery, and navigation equipment. All this, according to our analysis, can be done within one gram — cumulative.

When it can be built on that?

— The device can already be done, that’s 20 years no need to wait. The most difficult part is the photon engine, a complex of lasers is far superior to what we can do today. But on the other hand, it’s a matter of scale. The idea is that in order to do this project, nothing new to invent is not necessary, all has been invented in the last 15 years. Take the last achievements and try to scale them and apply it to space exploration. Applying Moore’s law to space is a fresh idea, I think.

— You have the understanding, how many years will it take for the project?

This understanding, unfortunately, no, as in any large project. We say that in principle, such a project can be done during one generation. Still, to go beyond the Solar system — it was an old dream of mankind, and that we can in principle implement, it is already nontrivial.

The first stage of the study, the second — prototype. As for the ship, I have no doubt. Next in complexity comes the sail, there will need more research. Well, the most difficult part — that this laser design. Of course, some results we can show, can do test runs and so on. I think it’s not a discrete project, and gradual. Don’t immediately jump to 100 million km/h, gradually. The main thing that you can do is just normal physics, the controversy here cannot be.

But if you are sending something somewhere in the Universe, everyone needs to agree with each other. And this requires some kind of global consensus, and it also may take 20-30 years to simply agree. Even if we prove that it is technically possible, then the question is do we, the public, you know? (laughs).