Real Interstellar Exploration Will Be Virtual
Beginning with the initial DARPA/NASA 100 Year Starship workshop, I have been struck by the lack of progress on classic interstellar flight technologies (principally propulsion) which render practical interstellar flight essentially impossible. At the same time we began studying use of the solar gravity lens to provide tens of billions times magnification to provide high-resolution, multi-pixel imaging of exoplanets. Five years of study of solar gravity lens focus mission concepts have now led to a new view of interstellar exploration carried out by small solar sailcraff to multiple solar gravity lens foci to image potentially habitable planets. Usi of the rapidly expanding technologies of AI, Information Processing and Virtual Reality will enable a new field of comparative astrobiology to be developed, analogous to the way comparative planetology in our solar system has developed.
Use of the solar gravity lens is the only practical way we can achieve multi-pixel images of exoplanets. Solar sails with advanced technology materials and smallsat payloads can achieve fast vekicutues (>25 AU/year) to make use of of solar gravity lens practical. By sending small sailcraft with modest telescopes to solar gravity lens foci of potentially habitable planets we can explore them systematically and in detail for sign of life – the ultimate goal of space exploration.