At a press conference on Tuesday, Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner, cosmologist Stephen Hawking and a group of scientists and philanthropists announced a $100 million research program to send robotic probes to nearby stars within a generation. The group believes that using a nano-spacecraft propelled by lasers, they will be able to reach Alpha Centauri in just over 20 years after launch. The nearest star system is 40 trillion km away, which using current technology would take about 30,000 years to reach there. The aforementioned group said that thanks to their research and development, they might be able to make a spacecraft that could cut down the duration to 30 years. Reuters reports: Tuesday's announcement, made with cosmologist Stephen Hawking, comes less than a year after the announcement of Breakthrough Listen. That decade-long, $100 million project, also backed by Milner, monitors radio signals for signs of intelligent life across the universe. Breakthrough Starshot involves deploying small light-propelled vehicles to carry equipment like cameras and communication equipment. Scientists hope the vehicles, known as nano-craft, will eventually fly at 20 percent of the speed of light, more than a thousand times faster than today's spacecraft. "The thing would look like the chip from your cell phone with this very thin gauzy light sail," said Pete Worden, the former director of NASA's Ames Research Center, who is leading the project. "It would be something like 10, 12 feet across."The Atlantic has just published an in-depth report on this, also explaining how this project came to being. You can also watch the live stream of the press conference.