Nuclear fusion to boost space as humans could explore the universe

Nuclear fusion to boost space as humans could explore the universe

The recent breakthrough in generating nuclear fusion could one day pave the way for humans to leave the solar system. Earlier this week, researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory of the Nuclear Security and National Nuclear Security Administration in Washington announced that they had successfully cracked the code and created a nuclear fusion reaction that produced more energy than it used. Nuclear fusion reactions involve the “fusing” of hydrogen atoms together instead of pulling large atoms apart, thereby generating large amounts of energy.

As the world struggles to end its dependence on fossil fuels – Russian or otherwise – the energy generated by nuclear fusion has been engineered to help create a near limitless source of energy.

In addition to providing the world with a power source comparable to the Sun, this breakthrough could breathe new life into the dream of fusion-powered electric rockets.

However, researchers are divided on this, with some rejecting the idea outright, believing that the 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 that while there was no doubt in his mind that fusion could be handled for space exploration purposes, he estimated that such technology would arrive in decades.

He said: “This work is therefore encouraging, but it should not diminish our research into alternatives such as radiant energy as we consider missions beyond the solar system.”

Meanwhile, experts like Richard Dinan, the UK-based founder of Pulsar Fusion, believe that fusion is propulsion is actually a much simpler technology than using fusion to generate power.

He said: “If fusion is feasible, which people are finally starting to see, then fusion power 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 the exhaust velocities generated by a fusion plasma are calculated to be around a thousand times greater than those of a Hall effect thruster, which is electrical propulsion equipment that uses electric and magnetic fields to create and eject a plasma.

READ MORE: Nuclear fusion breakthrough ‘will go down in history’ as code is cracked

In a major breakthrough for the Bletchley-based company, the has secured funding from the UK Space Agency (UKSA) to develop “nuclear fission-based integrated power systems for electric propulsion”.

Mr Dinan previously told Express.co.uk that this kind of rocket technology could reduce the time it takes to get to Mars and could one day allow humans to inhabit other planets outside our solar system.

Once developed, the engines could be capable of sending rockets whizzing through the cosmos at hyper-fast speeds on high-speed travel. But currently, Pulsar is making a number of different types of advanced space rocket engines which, although not yet at this stage, will help pave the way for a fusion rocket.

Not only could its technology potentially reduce travel times in space, the company claims, but the fuel used in so-called plasma thrusters could also save spacecraft operators millions of pounds in costs. operation, and could also increase the value of the spacecraft data product. .

Meanwhile, Ralph McNutt, physicist and chief scientist for space science at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, hailed the nuclear fusion breakthrough at NIF as a “significant milestone”.

Regarding space exploration, however, he said: “It should be sobering that despite all the work on NERVA/Rover, there is still no working nuclear thermal rocket engine. works, and the promise of nuclear electric propulsion for space travel only had a brief glimmer with SNAP-10A in April 1965.”

He said that while the actual use of inertial fusion confinement in a working spacecraft is a long-held dream, it will be unlikely to achieve it for long.

He said: “Space travel has always been difficult. The fact that NASA ‘paved the way’ that many commercial entities are now following doesn’t mean space has gotten easier, but the new results of the ICF have added to the ambitious glow on the horizon of the future.

“That said, no one should be fooled into thinking that space won’t ever be difficult. It’s called ‘rocket science’, with all that it entails in popular culture for a reason. .”


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