Pulsar Fusion founder discusses nuclear power
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The recent breakthrough in nuclear fusion generation could one day pave the way for allowing humans to leave the solar system. Earlier this week, researchers at Nuclear Security and National Nuclear Security Administrations Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Washington announced that they successfully cracked the code and created a nuclear fusion reaction which produced more energy than it used up. Nuclear fusion reactions involve “fusing” atoms of hydrogen together instead of splitting large atoms apart, generating vast amounts of energy in the process.
As the world scrambles to end its reliance on fossil fuels – Russian or otherwise – the energy generated from nuclear fusion has been tipped to help create a near-limitless source of power.
Aside from providing the world with an energy source likened to the Sun, this breakthrough could provide fresh life to the dream of power rockets with fusion propulsion.
However, researchers are divided on this subject, some dismissing the idea outright, saying that heavy components needed for fusion could make them unsuitable for space travel.
Speaking to Space.com Paul Gilster, writer and editor of the Centauri Dreams website, said while there was no doubt in his mind that fusion can be managed for space exploration purposes, he estimated that such technology would come decades in the future.
He said: “This work is heartening, then, but it should not diminish our research into alternatives like beamed energy as we consider missions beyond the solar system.”
Meanwhile, experts like Richard Dinan, the founder of the UK-based Pulsar Fusion, believe that fusion is propulsion is actually a much simpler technology to using fusion to generate energy.
He said: “If fusion is achievable, which at last the people are starting to see it is, then both fusion energy and propulsion are inevitable. One gives us the ability to power our planet indefinitely, the other the ability to leave our solar system. It’s a big deal, really.”
The former Made In Chelsea star said that exhaust speeds generated from a fusion plasma are calculated to be roughly a thousand times that of a Hall Effect Thruster, which is an electric propulsion hardware that uses electric and magnetic fields to create and eject a plasma.
In an important step forward for the Bletchley-based firm, the has been awarded funding from the UK Space Agency (UKSA) to develop ‘Integrated nuclear fission-based power systems for electric propulsion’.
Mr Dinan previously told Express.co.uk this type of rocket technology could slash the time it takes to get to Mars and could one day allow humans to inhabit other planets outside of our Solar System.
Once developed, the engines may be able to send rockets whizzing through the cosmos at hyper-speeds on journeys into deep speeds. But currently, Pulsar is manufacturing a number of different types of advanced space rocket engines that, while not at that stage just yet, will help pave the way to a fusion-powered rocket.
Not only could its technology eventually slash journey times in space, the company claims, but the fuel used in the so-called plasma thrusters could also save spacecraft operators millions of pounds in operating costs, and could also increase the value of the spacecraft’s data product.
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Meanwhile, Ralph McNutt, a physicist and chief scientist for space science at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory hailed the nuclear fusion breakthrough at NIF as a “significant milestone”.
With regards to space exploration, however, he said: “It should be still a sobering thought that despite all of the work on NERVA/Rover there is still no working nuclear thermal rocket engine, and the promise of nuclear electric propulsion for space travel only had a brief glimmer with SNAP-10A in April of 1965.”
He said that while the actual use of Inertial Fusion Confinement in a functional spacecraft has been a long-held dream, achieving this will be unlikely for a long time.
He said: “Space travel has always been tough. That NASA has ‘blazed the trail’ that many commercial entities are now following does not mean space has gotten easier, but the new ICF results have added to the aspirational glow on the horizon of the future.
“That said, no one should be fooled into thinking that space will somehow not be tough someday. It’s called ‘rocket science,’ with all that implies in popular culture for a reason.”
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