The Mission


       To take the first picture of an earth-like planet in the Alpha Centauri star system


 
A simulation of the next pale blue dot

A simulation of the next pale blue dot

 
And why that cerulean color? The blue comes partly from the sea, partly from the sky. While water in a glass is transparent, it absorbs slightly more red light than blue. If you have tens of meters of the stuff or more, the red light is absorbed out and what gets reflected back to space is mainly blue. In the same way, a short line of sight through air seems perfectly transparent. Nevertheless – something Leonardo da Vinci excelled at portraying – the more distant the object, the bluer it seems. Why? Because the air scatters blue light around much better than it does red. So the bluish cast of this dot comes from its thick but transparent atmosphere and its deep oceans of liquid water.
— Carl Sagan, in “Pale Blue Dot – A Vision of the Human Future in Space"

Project Overview

Project Blue will build and launch a compact space telescope with a 45-50 centimeter aperture to directly image the habitable zone of the nearest star system to Earth – Alpha Centauri A and B – with the goal of revealing the closest potentially habitable planet beyond our Solar System. Project Blue aims to image “Earth-like” planets (roughly 0.5 to 1.5 times of the size of Earth) orbiting within either star's habitable zone and possessing an atmosphere that could allow liquid water to exist on its surface. If such a planet were to be just like the Earth, with oceans and such an atmosphere, we might just “see blue”.

If such planets exist in the Alpha Centauri A and B system — and there are two Sun-like stars to investigate — our mission will be the first to take a direct image of another Earth, or “pale blue dot” as Carl Sagan put it, generating the most detailed image of an inner planetary system around any star other than our Sun. Such a discovery will profoundly impact our understanding of the potential for life to exist elsewhere in our galaxy, spur public interest in astronomy and science, and accelerate the search for other potentially habitable worlds.


Science Objective

Directly detect and characterize Earth-like planets in the aCen A&B system. 
 

Science Impact

We aim to provide the scientific community with an instrument capable of investigating the Alpha Centauri system within about 3 years. Any planets Project Blue finds will be excellent potential targets for future large space telescopes being developed by NASA and other space agencies. In particular, if any potentially habitable planets are found, there will be a substantial surge of interest to apply spectroscopic techniques to discern details about the nature of the planets and their atmospheres.


Project Blue will demonstrate and test coronagraph and wavefront technologies similar to ones that could be used on much larger future space telescopes currently being studied by NASA (e.g., HabEX, LUVOIR), and thus help to retire technical risks and hone the observing techniques and data processing algorithms for those missions.

The Technology

Telescope rendering

Project Blue will place a state-of-the-art exoplanet imaging telescope into orbit. The instrument will be equipped with advanced high contrast imaging technologies embedded in a coronagraph with a deformable mirror, multi-star wavefront control, and specialized post-processing techniques. Together they can efficiently suppress the light from both stars (Alpha Centauri A and B) separately, thus allowing any planets to be seen. Our team has extensive experience developing and testing these technologies — now it’s time to get them into space!


Why Alpha Centauri?

Quite simply, we believe Alpha Centauri is the best target for direct imaging an Earth-like planet in coming years.

  • Unusual proximity: At only 4.37 light years distance, Alpha Centauri is the closest star system to us, and contains not just one, but two stars similar to our Sun. The next Sun-like star is located 2.5x further away and would require a telescope 2.5 times larger in size. 
  • Accessible Habitable Zone: Its proximity allows us to observe the habitable zone of each star for Earth-like planets with a modest space telescope with a powerful coronagraph, while any other star requires telescopes of at least 1 meter in size.
  • Fertile ground: Proxima Centauri, which is thought to be part of the same system, is now known to have a potentially habitable planet. We are acting on a new scientific urgency to investigate our nearest Sun-like stars!


Timeline

2016:  Form partnerships & initiate fundraising
2017:   Preliminary design, proof of concept prototypes, integration, and initial instrument prototype
2018:   Final mission design, fabrication, assembly & testing; incorporate lessons learned from related balloon-borne flights
2019:   Final construction and launch to low-Earth orbit
2020 - 2022: Science and mission operations