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Here’s how to stop a speeding starship

Starshot mission
The aim of the Starshot project is to send a tiny spacecraft propelled by an enormous rectangular photon sail to the Alpha Centauri star system, as shown in this artist’s conception, (Planetary Habitability Laboratory, University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo)

Millions of dollars are being spent on a scheme to speed up swarms of tiny sail-equipped probes to 20 percent of the speed of light and send them past Alpha Centauri – but how do you slow them down again?

German researchers suggest using the same light sails that got the probes going so fast in the first place.

René Heller, an astrophysicist at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, and information technology specialist Michael Hippke worked out a plan could be factored into Breakthrough Starshot’s decades-long mission plan. The details are laid out today in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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