Joan Johnson-Freese, Nikola Schmidt
The kind of advances in spaceflight envisioned in the mid-twentieth century have largely failed to materialize, thereby limiting space exploration to relatively small areas of a very large galaxy. That will change with the advent of directed energy technologies, specifically laser propulsion. The privately funded Breakthrough Starshot program is already working on such a propulsion system to carry nanosatellite Star Chips to the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri. But powerful lasers – a dual-use technology much like rocketry, nuclear energy, and cyber technology, which have both security-related and civilian uses – have been largely stigmatized as weapons. While security concerns about the use of large lasers are certainly justified, the development of Starshot and other big, multinational science programs can have positive national and international outcomes. Therefore, the use of a large laser array as a propulsion system will require, much like other large multinational cutting-edge science programs, a negotiated, cooperative governance system. Those negotiations should begin soon.