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Project Blue revives its planet quest

Project Blue telescope
An artist’s concept shows a preliminary design for the Project Blue telescope. (Project Blue via Vimeo)

Project Blue is launching a second try to attract crowdfunding for a space telescope designed to study planets in the Alpha Centauri system, months after the first try fizzled.

This time around, the BoldlyGo Institute and its Project Blue partners – including the SETI Institute, the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, and Mission Centaur – are aiming to raise a minimum of $175,000 through the Indiegogo crowdfunding website.

Whatever money they raise will go toward nailing down the requirements for the Project Blue mission and engaging with potential industry partners.

The mission’s objective is to look for potentially habitable planets around the Alpha Centauri double-star system.

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Going to Alpha Centauri? Try antimatter

An artist’s conception shows a positron rocket engine. (Positronics Research via NASA)
An artist’s conception shows a positron rocket engine. (Positronics Research via NASA)

Project Blue’s scientists still have to raise more than $800,000 over the next 15 days to reach their initial crowdfunding goal for a mission to observe Alpha Centauri’s alien planets, but they’re already thinking about how future explorers could get there.

It would take tens of thousands of years to make the 4.37-light-year trip using the best rocket propulsion that’s available today.

But a video created by Speculative Films, with input from Project Blue as well as Positron Dynamics, focuses on how antimatter propulsion could reduce that travel time to 40 years.

Antimatter drives have been a science-fiction standby since the original “Star Trek” TV series. They’ve also been the subject of real-world research. Almost two decades ago, researchers were talking with NASA about an antimatter-driven sail that could send a spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in the 40-year time frame.

Positron Dynamics’ concept calls for cooling down a stream of positrons — the antimatter equivalent of electrons — and smashing them into a stream of electrons. Theoretically, that could produce enough oomph to accelerate a probe to more than one-tenth of the speed of light.

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