Manchester and his companion researchers are confident that ultimately, mini spacecraft alike to the Sprites—called StarChips—will be able to travel at 20% the speed of light, which is almost 37,000 miles per second. It would take a spacecraft moving at this speed less than seven seconds to reach the Moon from Earth, according to Sky and Telescope.
Those are speeds and distances have never been achieved before. Presently, the furthermost spacecraft ever fabricated is NASA’s Voyager 1, which was launched in 1977, and only just reached Interstellar space a few years back.
For now, the Sprites are travelling in Low Earth Orbit. They were launched on June 23rd on an Indian rocket called the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). Breakthrough Starshot expects that a second satellite will be launched more soon.
Understandably, much more work is needed to be done before we get our hopes up about an interstellar journey. But for astrobiology geeks and tinfoil hat followers alike, the Sprites’ effective launch could be a significant step toward finding life beyond Earth.
“The distances are immense and it’s a big challenge. We’re a long way out to the eventual goals [of Breakthrough Starshot], but we’re setting the early precedent here.”