Avi Loeb, whose name is firmly associated with the alien artifact speculation regarding 'Oumuamua has posted a blog article on Project Lyra. This is not the first time he reacts to Project Lyra and we see this as another opportunity to put forward our point of view.
We agree that the only way to settle the ongoing debate about the nature of ‘Oumuamua is by evidence. The only way to obtain evidence is by flying to ‘Oumuamua. We have shown in a number of peer-reviewed journal papers that there are good reasons to believe that the mission is feasible and worthwhile (summarized on our Project Lyra page https://i4is.org/what-we-do/technical/project-lyra/):
The flight times to ‘Oumuamua are on the order of 15-20 years, a similar scale as existing interplanetary missions. The values he has selected in his blog article represent the most pessimistic ones (Ariane 6 launch). We trust that this has been simply due to a superficial reading of the associated paper and not a deliberate omission.
Detecting ‘Oumuamua in the darkness of interstellar space is challenging. However, we demonstrated in our paper (Hein, A. M., Eubanks, T. M., Lingam, M., Hibberd, A., Fries, D., Schneider, J., ... & Dachwald, B. (2022). Interstellar now! Missions to explore nearby interstellar objects. Advances in Space Research, 69(1), 402-414. Section 3.1) that a Lorri-size telescope (20.8 cm diameter), which has been flown in New Horizons can detect ‘Oumuamua from a 4.6 million km distance, which provides about 43 hours for a horizontal maneuver. This allows for ample time to navigate the spacecraft on an encounter trajectory to ‘Oumuamua.
We have shown that precursor Breakthrough Starshot-type probes could reach ‘Oumuamua within 1-2 years (https://arxiv.org/abs/2006.03891). We are surprised, as he is the Chair of the Advisory Committee of Breakthrough Starshot.
The likelihood of finding another ‘Oumuamua-like object is a matter of debate and various estimates have been proposed in the literature. But the only thing we know for sure at this point is that we have not discovered any other object like ‘Oumuamua. Hence, until we have any new evidence, it is reasonable to assume that ‘Oumuamua is unique and act accordingly.
To conclude, we do not see any serious counterargument to Project Lyra. We are rather concerned that readers of Avi's article might be discouraged to have a deeper look into the possibilities to reach 'Oumuamua for the wrong reasons.
We should not miss this unique opportunity, as it could be that ‘Oumuamua is truly unique and we may not find a similar object in a very long time.