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James Burgess

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James Burgess studied Business Management at the University of Nottingham. He has worked in property development, chartered surveying, marketing, law, and accounts. He has also…

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Scientists Close to Building Nuclear Fusion Powered Rocket

Current rockets used to travel into space are flawed. They have limited fuel capacity, making long distance spaceflight impossible, have a relatively low top speed, and cost exorbitant amounts to run. Based on current technology NASA estimates that a trip to Mars would take more than four years, require huge amounts of solid fuel, and cost $12 billion just to launch the vessel.

Scientists at the University of Washington, in conjunction with a space propulsion company based in Redmond, have calculated that it is possible to make a trip to Mars in 30-90 days using a nuclear fusion powered rocket.

The idea of a space rocket powered by nuclear fusion may seem like something from a science fiction film, only possible in hundreds of year’s time; but, with funding from NASA under the Innovative Advanced Concepts Program, the scientists have actually already built, and successfully tested all components of the rocket. All that remains now is to combine the individual pieces and hope they still work together; computer simulations suggest that they will.

Related article: Increasing our Protection from Solar Storms

John Slough, a research associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics from the University of Washington, explained that “using existing rocket fuels, it's nearly impossible for humans to explore much beyond Earth. We are hoping to give us a much more powerful source of energy in space that could eventually lead to making interplanetary travel commonplace.”

Last month Slough and his colleagues presented detailed computer modelling and experimental results, earning a second round of funding from NASA.

Nuclear Fusion Propulsion System
The plasma (blue) is injected into the rocket nozzle. Lithium metal rings (red) then collapse at great force around the plasma, compressing it to fusion conditions. The sudden release of fusion energy vaporizes and ionizes the lithium in the magnetic nozzle, causing it to eject and power the rocket forward. Credit: University of Washington, MSNW

Due to the power released in nuclear fusion systems very little fuel is actually needed for the journey. A lump of the fuel the size of a grain of sand contains the same amount of energy as a gallon of rocket fuel.

By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com



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  • J. Manley on May 05 2013 said:
    Like all the proposals I've seen, I don't see any explanation for how you are going to contain the pressures that your rocket will generate. With your numbers you're looking at over 150,000 bar and that? is beyond current materials science. Fusion power is *powerful* and that is the biggest reason why it doesn't exist. Your model generates abt 12.5 gigawatts power pressing against a neck of about 1 square meter, correct?

    And your pressures are the most modest I've seen yet. The dirty little secret in fusion is that to produce a realistic amount of power one has to produce pressures (and temperatures) far exceeding anything materials science can handle. And there is no magic way around this. But there is one way around this which was only available as of 2012.

    And at 12.5 gigawatts kinetic you are also pumping out quite a lot of slow neutrons so I'm guessing you have already considered high reflectivity materials? For slow neutrons? you can get over 90% reflection but you'd be better off with Boron b/c at these power levels neutronic emission will be monstrous.

    The only realistic path, albeit an arduous one, is detailed in TFET fusion at http://kirkomrik.wordpress.com/rule-of-law/personal/

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