NASA is in its early stages of sending a probe to an exoplanet by 2069. The probe will travel several light years away to the Centauri system.
So, NASA has a lot to do to achieve their ambitious plans. The expedition is set to mark the 100th anniversary of its first crewed Moon landing, Apollo 11.
The basic outline of this mission was presented in mid-December at American Geophysical Union conference in New Orleans. JPL’s Anthony Freeman called the plan “nebulous,” noting that the mission doesn’t even have a name yet.
We currently know that the goal is to send the probe, possibly, to the Centauri system in 2069. However, the design of the craft, launch vehicle, and propulsion system all remain unknown.
However, there’s still a debate going on as to whether they will select Alpha Centauri or another system as the destination.
The mission will determine whether or not life is present. Also, after the launch, NASA plans to launch a large telescope into deep space. Thus, using gravitational lensing to offer a full view of the exoplanet.
The Centauri system is the closest to Earth. It’s a triple-star system which lies just over four light years away. The larger Alpha Centauri A and B are a binary system, with the red dwarf Proxima Centauri orbiting them.
However, there could be more planets we can’t see yet. So, by the time the interstellar mission launches, with the help of James Webb Telescope, everything will be clearer to us.
Nasa’s biggest challenge is developing a spacecraft that’s capable of reaching speeds that are even a fraction of light speed.
Another challenge is designing the craft that can be able to survive in the interstellar medium while traveling at these speeds, as particle impacts could prove to be a major problem.
Artist’s depiction of a space probe, propelled by a solar sail. Image credit: Andrzej Mirecki
NASA is considering all the technologies that could potentially help a craft reach the speeds that are required. However, at present, they believe that the sails are the most promising.
But even if the craft will be able to travel fast enough to make the journey to another system, the trip would likely take centuries.