What will space exploration look like in 2040?

The 33rd annual Space Symposium wrapped up recently in Colorado and New Atlas was on hand to check out some of the exhibits and talks. Amidst the rocket models, jet engines and satellites, we found a quiet corner to sit down with Scott Fouse, the vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Center. For our One Big Question series, we wanted to get his thoughts on what reaching for the stars will look like in the future, so we asked him: What will space exploration look like in 2040?

Oh, and, he was so rich with information that we broke our regular format of asking only one question this time and threw in a few follow-ups. We didn’t think you would mind.

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Here’s an edited version of our interview.

One of the things we’re we’re doing right now is starting a collaboration with Breakthrough Initiatives, led by former head of the NASA Ames Research Center, Pete Worden. They do these kind of far-out projects – one they’re doing is called Breakthrough Starshot. The idea is they want to visit the closest star, Alpha Centauri.

To do that they’re developing a single-chip spacecraft attached to a light sail. The concept is that there will be a satellite in orbit that will pop out one of these light sails, they’ll turn on the laser, hit it for two minutes and that will accelerate it to .8 the speed of light. At that point it just goes. And there’s lots of very interesting cool technology about how you build that single-chip spacecraft, and the light sail itself is very interesting. It can be more than just a sail, it can be an imaging sensor, it could be the aperture for communicating. So that’s a pretty far-off concept. In talking with the guys, they’re thinking that’s a kind of 20 to 30-year vision. So it’s it’s definitely in the ballpark of 2040 I think.

A little closer to home, you watch what’s…

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