The Planetary Radio program had a recent interesting interview with Philip Lubin, Professor of Physics at UC Santa Barbara, and Travis Brashears, an undergrad at UC Berkeley, about their proposal to accelerate a tiny wafer sized lightsail spacecraft up to 10-25% of the speed of light using an array of lasers and sending the sail to a nearby star: Interstellar Dreams Turn Real – The Planetary Society
The key element of the concept is the use of a phased array of many commercially available lasers rather than one hugely powerful laser. The concept is presented on their Directed Energy website and on the DEEP-IN page at UCSB. Lubin’s team has won two grants from the NASA Innovative Advance Concepts (NIAC) program to develop the concept further: DEEP IN Directed Energy Propulsion for Interstellar Exploration – NASA.
Lubin gave a seminar at the SETI Institute in 2014 about the use of such a phased array of lasers for not only propulsion but also for defense against large objects heading for earth: Video: Philip Lubin (UCSB) on planetary defense with beamed power. Find resources on this at DE-STAR (Directed Energy Planetary Defense).
Lubin and Brashears recently opened a crowd-funding campaign to fund development of the Humanity Chip, which would carry all sorts of data submitted by the public to space in 2017 (not by laser) and eventually to another star: Voices of Humanity – The World’s Space Time Capsule by Prof. Philip Lubin & Travis Brashears — Kickstarter
Our goal is to directly engage all humanity in space exploration. We want to send your dreams and aspirations to the stars! With our basic funding goal of $30,000, we will put your data on a custom spacecraft that will be launched in 2017 initially into Low Earth Orbit (LEO), then to more distant missions to the moon, Mars, etc in subsequent missions. In the future, we intend to offer the Humanity Chip to all spacecraft being launched.
With 25 days to go, they have gotten $5,515 pledged towards a $30,000 goal.
Here are a couple of videos from the Kickstarter: