Rocket powered by nuclear fusion could send humans to Mars

Apr 04, 2013
A concept image of a spacecraft powered by a fusion-driven rocket. In this image, the crew would be in the forward-most chamber. Solar panels on the sides would collect energy to initiate the process that creates fusion. Credit: University of Washington, MSNW

Human travel to Mars has long been the unachievable dangling carrot for space programs. Now, astronauts could be a step closer to our nearest planetary neighbor through a unique manipulation of nuclear fusion, the same energy that powers the sun and stars.

University of Washington researchers and scientists at a Redmond-based space-propulsion company are building components of a fusion-powered rocket aimed to clear many of the hurdles that block deep space travel, including long times in transit, exorbitant costs and health risks.

"Using existing rocket fuels, it's nearly impossible for humans to explore much beyond Earth," said lead researcher John Slough, a UW research associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics. "We are hoping to give us a much more powerful source of energy in space that could eventually lead to making commonplace."

The project is funded through NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts Program. Last month at a symposium, Slough and his team from MSNW, of which he is president, presented their mission analysis for a trip to Mars, along with detailed computer modeling and initial experimental results. Theirs was one of a handful of projects awarded a second round of funding last fall after already receiving phase-one money in a field of 15 projects chosen from more than 700 proposals.

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

NASA estimates a round-trip human expedition to Mars would take more than four years using current technology. The sheer amount of fuel needed in space would be extremely expensive – the launch costs alone would be more than $12 billion.

Slough and his team have published papers calculating the potential for 30- and 90-day expeditions to Mars using a rocket powered by fusion, which would make the trip more practical and less costly.

But is this really feasible?

Slough and his colleagues at MSNW think so. They have demonstrated successful lab tests of all portions of the process. Now, the key will be combining each isolated test into a final experiment that produces fusion using this technology, Slough said.

The research team has developed a type of plasma that is encased in its own magnetic field. occurs when this plasma is compressed to high pressure with a magnetic field. The team has successfully tested this technique in the lab.

Only a small amount of fusion is needed to power a rocket – a small grain of sand of this material has the same energy content as 1 gallon of .

To power a rocket, the team has devised a system in which a powerful magnetic field causes large metal rings to implode around this plasma, compressing it to a fusion state. The converging rings merge to form a shell that ignites the fusion, but only for a few microseconds. Even though the compression time is very short, enough energy is released from the fusion reactions to quickly heat and ionize the shell. This super-heated, ionized metal is ejected out of the rocket nozzle at a high velocity. This process is repeated every minute or so, propelling the spacecraft.

This is the fusion-driven rocket test chamber at the University of Washington's Plasma Dynamics Lab in Redmond, Wash. The green vacuum chamber is surrounded by two large, high-strength aluminum magnets. These magnets are powered by energy-storage capacitors through the many cables connected to them. These coils are used to drive the collapse of metal rings placed on the inside wall of the vacuum chamber. Credit: University of Washington, MSNW

The UW-MSNW team has successfully demonstrated the metal-crushing process in the UW Plasma Dynamics Laboratory in Redmond. The team had a sample of the collapsed, fist-sized aluminum ring resulting from one of those tests on hand for people to see and touch at the recent symposium.

"I think everybody was pleased to see confirmation of the principal mechanism that we're using to compress the plasma," Slough said. "We hope we can interest the world with the fact that fusion isn't always 40 years away and doesn't always cost $2 billion."

Now, the team is working to bring it all together by using the technology to compress the plasma and create nuclear fusion. Slough hopes to have everything ready for a first test at the end of the summer.

The Plasma Dynamics Lab – where Slough and colleagues, including UW graduate students, build and conduct experiments – is filled wall-to-wall with blue capacitors that hold energy, each functioning like a high-voltage battery. The capacitors are hooked up to a giant magnet that houses the chamber where the fusion reaction will take place. With the flip of a switch, the capacitors are simultaneously triggered to deliver 1 million amps of electricity for a fraction of a second to the magnet, which quickly compresses the metal ring.

The mechanical process and equipment used are reasonably straightforward, which Slough said supports their design working in space.

"Anything you put in space has to function in a fairly simple manner," he said. "You can extrapolate this technology to something usable in space."

In actual space travel, scientists would use lithium metal as the crushing rings to power the rocket. Lithium is very reactive, and for lab-testing purposes, aluminum works just as well, Slough said.

Nuclear fusion may draw concern because of its application in nuclear bombs, but its use in this scenario is very different, Slough said. The fusion energy for powering a rocket would be reduced by a factor of 1 billion from a hydrogen bomb, too little to create a significant explosion. Also, Slough's concept uses a strong to contain the fusion fuel and guide it safely away from the spacecraft and any passengers within.

Research partners are Anthony Pancotti, David Kirtley and George Votroubek, all of MSNW; Christopher Pihl, engineering technician lead in aeronautics and astronautics at UW; and Michael Pfaff, a UW doctoral student in aeronautics and astronautics.

Explore further: Tandem microwave destroys hazmat, disinfects

More information: Video simulations are available on the fusion-driven rocket's YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/FusionDrivenRocket

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User comments : 83

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Maggnus
3.7 / 5 (14) Apr 04, 2013
Keep hearing about it, keep not seeing it. Hopefully this time is different.
Foundation
4.6 / 5 (9) Apr 04, 2013
What happened to the 3 months round trip we would have using VASIMR?
http://phys.org/n...552.html
SeattleBrad
1 / 5 (21) Apr 04, 2013
Fusion involves taking a small atom and fusing it to create a larger atom, i.e. hydrogen into helium. The process is this article is not fusion.
Lurker2358
4.2 / 5 (19) Apr 04, 2013
It is fusion, silly.

"Nuclear fusion" is exactly what the article is talking about, by compressing the plasma (probably hydrogen or helium 3) until it fuses into something else (probably helium 4).

Note the comparison to the hydrogen bomb. All they did was not use as much fuel as the fusion stage of the H-bomb has available.

The aluminum or lithium rings are destroyed and ionized by the insane amount of energy coming out of the fusion reaction, which converts much of the energy into thrust to drive the rocket.

The trick they are using is having part of the apparatus, the rings, be disposable, and this disposable apparatus becomes the propellant.
Moebius
2.6 / 5 (20) Apr 04, 2013
Come on, slamming the crew every minute or two with explosive acceleration sounds feasible? Ever heard of the Chinese water torture? This is only good for cargo.

What they need is small ones in an array with sequential firing to come as close as possible to producing a constant and smooth 1G acceleration.
hemitite
4.3 / 5 (9) Apr 04, 2013

Just how many of these Li rings would be needed for a round trip to Mars? I don't get any sort of idea of just how this device would operate - how long between pulses? Can some of the energy from one pulse be captured to energize the next magno-squench? How about neutrons and gamma rays - how much shielding would be necessary?

Lurker2358
2.7 / 5 (14) Apr 04, 2013
Come on, slamming the crew every minute or two with explosive acceleration sounds feasible? Ever heard of the Chinese water torture? This is only good for cargo.

What they need is small ones in an array with sequential firing to come as close as possible to producing a constant and smooth 1G acceleration.


This is obvious, and I have thought of this in the past. There are several possibilities, since 3 points define a plane, which determines the (orthogonal) orientation of the rocket.

So you could have like 12 fusion engines in a clock-like shape, 12-4-8 all burst, then 1-5-9, then 2-6-10, then 3-7-11.

In this way if the cycle required 1 second then you could have 4 sets of bursts per second, or if the cycle required 2 seconds you could have 2 sets of bursts per second.

Each burst would have 3 points, providing stability.

Makes sense, but yeah it's been thought about by myself before, and I'm sure the guys at NASA know how to make this work as well.
danman5000
5 / 5 (4) Apr 04, 2013
Re: moebius
How do you know this doesn't already do that? It's a rather small amount of metal ejected.
Judgeking
5 / 5 (2) Apr 04, 2013
It's been said before above, but yeah, the really neat thing would be to put about 10 or 20 of these engines in a array, firing in sequence. Should get to Mars in about a week, and produce a nice, 1G feeling for the crew.
Eikka
3.7 / 5 (12) Apr 04, 2013
Come on, slamming the crew every minute or two with explosive acceleration sounds feasible?


See documentary: To Mars by a bomb

It's already been though out at a much grander scale. The basic idea is to have the engine itself connected to an inertial damper - a large mass - which is connected to the passenger compartment by a shock absorber.

Not all of the mass of the rocket has to accelerate at the same time.
antialias_physorg
4.3 / 5 (16) Apr 04, 2013
Come on, slamming the crew every minute or two with explosive acceleration sounds feasible?

The energy per pulse is relatively small and the mass of the spacecraft is pretty big. So you won't be feeling much of a 'jolt' each time a fusion pellet is used (acceleration will be FAR below 1g).

The thing about space is: no friction. So even if the acceleration per second (or in this case per minute) is very low over the course of a few days/weeks you get to very high speeds.
While this is true for any kind of rocket engine in space the ones running on conventional rocket fuels could not carry the huge mass to make such sustained burns.

With fusion the reacton chamber is considerably more massive. But the fuel tanks are comparatively small. And over the long haul the latter factor dominates the former one.
Arcbird
1.6 / 5 (21) Apr 04, 2013
Meh... this is still irrelevant. I will read an entire article when the title says something like "declasified antigravity reactor".
Lurker2358
4.2 / 5 (11) Apr 04, 2013
Peak acceleration of like 1.5g, with an average acceleration of 1g or maybe 0.5g would be very good, because it would help solve muscle mass and bone density problems from both angles: reducing travel time and increasing "simulated gravity" effects.

Meh... this is still irrelevant. I will read an entire article when the title says something like "declasified antigravity reactor".


Why so negative? This type of engine might even be re-useable for multiple round trips.
ivo_dekeijzer
2 / 5 (15) Apr 04, 2013
"Nuclear fusion occurs when this plasma is compressed to high pressure with a magnetic field."

So this could give us Fusion while all the Billions of Dollars and Euro's and all the thousands of researchers working at Tokamak and Laser Fusion facilities have still failed to generate more power then was put in to start it. I`m highly skeptical of these claims. It is likely to take a lot more energy to power the magnets then is delivered from the Fusion.

Remember the claims and the National Ignition Facility that net gain Fusion would be reached by 2012. They not only went back on their claims and did not only failed to reach Fusion let alone net gain Fusion. But they have pushed back the date to an unknown future time period and an official investigation was launched into what all went wrong and how so much was over promised.
Lurker2358
4.3 / 5 (11) Apr 04, 2013
ivo:

Capturing energy as electricity is different than just riding on a beam of plasma or an explosive shockwave.

The "net gain" in an electric fusion plant must overcome several stages of thermodynamic inefficiencies.

The "net gain" in a rocket only requires that the fusion engine produce more net acceleration than the same mass of rocket engine and rocket fuel would have produced.

It functions like an ion engine, except you spend your electric power to induce magnetism, which you then use to produce fusion. The fusion reaction releases enormous amounts of energy, perhaps millions of times more than the input, which ionizes the rings, which become propellant.

For now, a rocket does not need to be as long-lasting or as stable as a power plant. Power plants need to be stable and maintained for decades. You can't just explode a kiloton worth of fusion in a reactor and convert all to electric. You can conceivably do that with a rocket and convert it all to thrust via ionizations.
Husky
5 / 5 (6) Apr 04, 2013
if they use a damping scheme like in the original Orion, the damping mechanism could provide electricity for the magnets.
jibbles
3.5 / 5 (4) Apr 04, 2013
what would power the magnet?
jibbles
5 / 5 (6) Apr 04, 2013
as i understand, the fusion energy would indeed be released very quickly, but it would only produce the plasma. the acceleration would actually be produced (by ejecting the plasma) using the magnetic nozzle, which probably operates on a much longer time scale than the "collapsing magnet". so the acceleration would not be that jerky.
dschlink
3 / 5 (2) Apr 04, 2013
A comparison might be a V1 pulse jet vs a CF6 engine on a 767. They use the same basic concept, burn a fuel/air mixture and blow it out the backend. This approach is much the same as a V1. Create a plasma, compress it to fusion and let the results blow out the back. Much easier than trying to contain the plasma while extracting useful energy.
El_Nose
2.5 / 5 (4) Apr 04, 2013
So the weight of the system's fuel is not only the propellant but also these lithium rings... i wonder how big they are and since you are losing 1 a minute how much they weight.

This is probably best used for space transport only -- not earth to space transport.
ValeriaT
1.2 / 5 (18) Apr 04, 2013
It would be really interesting, if Challenger-like catastrophe would happen with nuclear powered rocket in the atmosphere. The Arabs would have their job done.
Modernmystic
2.9 / 5 (12) Apr 04, 2013
It would be really interesting, if Challenger-like catastrophe would happen with nuclear powered rocket in the atmosphere. The Arabs would have their job done.


I can't tell. Are you serious?
diego
1.5 / 5 (17) Apr 04, 2013
WE are so far away from fusion powered space power it's not even worth fantasazing about. We haven't even built a fusion reactor that creates an energy surplus here on earth, let alone built one compact enough to send into space.
xel3241
4.3 / 5 (11) Apr 04, 2013
WE are so far away from fusion powered space power it's not even worth fantasazing about. We haven't even built a fusion reactor that creates an energy surplus here on earth, let alone built one compact enough to send into space.


Again, as has been previously stated, producing fusion power continuously and stably for decades is far different from merely riding the shock waves from miniature hydrogen bombs.

And to the previous poster who asked about it, yes, it is possible to use VASIMR in conjuction with this. The radiation from fusing the hydrogen pellets could be used to heat up gases until they enter the plasma state.
ValeriaT
1.2 / 5 (21) Apr 04, 2013
IMO the cold fusion is already capable to send the rocket to the Mars. It's power density is comparable to chemical energy, not to say about energy density.
Parsec
5 / 5 (7) Apr 04, 2013
what would power the magnet?


Either a conventional plutonium 238 battery, or solar panels like in the artists conception.
Q-Star
3.5 / 5 (11) Apr 04, 2013
WE are so far away from fusion powered space power it's not even worth fantasazing about. We haven't even built a fusion reactor that creates an energy surplus here on earth, let alone built one compact enough to send into space.


In the space environment building the "containment" would a miniscule problem compared to producing the same here where "containment" is one of the largest hurdles.

It's not like they would be building something as large as a power-plant to supply a city. In a space environment, it would not need to produce much more power than a car or truck. Once ya get a thing past a low Earth orbit, it takes little to do a lot.
Osiris1
2.7 / 5 (7) Apr 04, 2013
More power to them. Radial arrays that run in triads is nice. No limits imposed by fluid dynamics if no fluid is traversed like an atmosphere. Now this system if miniaturized could be used in a space shuttle craft that would be a true space shuttle...one stage go orbit and controlled low speed re-entry. Fusion can be that compact. The folks at focus fusion are working on a concept that would yield a gun like device capable of many 'shots' in constant succession. It is designed with the idea of extraction of energy by magnetoelectrohydrodynamics by generating a movement of positive charges down the exhaust tube. IN a power plant, the exhaust tube would be longer so as to decrease waste. In a rocket, the exhaust IS the product and the source of the thrust. So a hybrid of this will generate not only power to run the process, but also power to run the ship...AND..the propulsion to drive the spacecraft.
Ober
2.6 / 5 (7) Apr 04, 2013
Note that we already have achieved fusion. ie Thermo Nuclear Hydrogen Bombs!!!! It's just controlling them to produce electricety we haven't mastered yet. The rocket engine in this article is essentially a very small H bomb. Note that H bombs of the past have usually used a fission bomb, egg shell, system to implode on the fusion target, which then detonates. This rocket is using lithium (instead of fissile material), and magnetic fields to implode on the fusion fuel (plasma). The ring itself is destroyed and accelerated out the nozzle using magnetic fields.

A chemical rocket takes it from Earth to orbit, then it fires up the fusion engine.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.7 / 5 (12) Apr 04, 2013
Come on, slamming the crew every minute or two with explosive acceleration sounds feasible?


See documentary: To Mars by a bomb

It's already been though out at a much grander scale. The basic idea is to have the engine itself connected to an inertial damper - a large mass - which is connected to the passenger compartment by a shock absorber.

Not all of the mass of the rocket has to accelerate at the same time.
Right. As explored by niven in Footfall, and others.
http://en.wikiped...Footfall

Here is another alternative being explored, Antimatter Initiated Microfusion (AIM) drive:
http://ffden-2.ph...ion.html
Lurker2358
3.1 / 5 (9) Apr 04, 2013
It would be really interesting, if Challenger-like catastrophe would happen with nuclear powered rocket in the atmosphere. The Arabs would have their job done.


This is actually safer than a chemical rocket.

The fusion explosion is not large enough to be self-sustaining, so the extra fuel will not detonate.
KaiBrunnenG
1 / 5 (4) Apr 04, 2013
wouldn't it be simpler to have small canisters pre-filled with plasma that you compress to get fusion, instead of trying to coordinate the timing of the ring compression with plasma shot? Also they should consider harnessing some of that energy to power the ship as well as the propulsion.

Overall I think it's a good idea-while I'd love to see warp technology developed, it's a long-shot and perhaps humans have to learn to walk before they race into hyperspace.

Personally I'd like to see us go to planets in other star systems, but even if we could get trips to Jupiter and Saturn that'd be pretty amazing on it's own.
baudrunner
3 / 5 (4) Apr 04, 2013
@Judgeking: A constant acceleration of 1G would have us to Mars in about two days, to light speed in about a year.

I think that a goal of 1G of constant acceleration should be the challenge, and adapting the Vasimr engine using additional technologies is a good starting point toward achieving that goal. So, how can we improve on Vasimr?

TheKnowItAll
1 / 5 (5) Apr 04, 2013
By the way for those who forgot, most of the energy from an H-Bomb comes from the internal fission bomb, the Hydrogen is just there to help with the process. Also I don't know of any fusion reactor that produces more power than is put in but by all means if someone has a link to a reputable site I would love to read about it.
nzldude
1 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2013
I was wondering, to produce the sufficient magnetic field capable of fusing the lithium particle with the plasma, would super-conducting magnets be viable? Taking advantage of the inherent low temperatures needed to induce superconducting properties, could the extremely low temperatures of space be used? Also a by-product of this would be providing magnetic shielding for the crew from radiation…
trekgeek1
3.5 / 5 (4) Apr 05, 2013
Come on, slamming the crew every minute or two with explosive acceleration sounds feasible? Ever heard of the Chinese water torture? This is only good for cargo.



So you're not a fan of the internal combustion engine.
sirchick
5 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2013
How can NASA afford this when their funding is cut? Great ideas but do they have the money.. unless they partner up with ESA i guess.
Pkunk_
1 / 5 (4) Apr 05, 2013
I think these guys were inspired by Project Orion. At least some good came out of all the research which went into it.
It's a very achievable concept.
But something like this would require BOATLOADS of lithium pellets. I wonder how much it would cost to fabricate them. Lithium is cheap , and H3 can be "bred".
Make no mistake though , this rocket will need a nuclear fission reactor to power those huge aluminium magnets. If anything can get the green brigade worked up , its the unholy marriage of "nukulear" fission and "nukulear" fusion in one sweet package.
Birger
1 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2013
Hmm...it sounds good, but the BIG problem is understanding fusion to the point when it can be applied.

Zubrin's uranium-salt fission rocket engine is probably easier to design (and "easier" is a relative term :) ).
InterPur
3 / 5 (2) Apr 05, 2013
Sorry, but our "nearest planetary neighbor" is not Mars.
It's Venus.
Steven_Anderson
1.4 / 5 (7) Apr 05, 2013
Sounds like it gives new meaning to the words "Whip Lash"! Seriously though it sounds really interesting. It's good to see a practical application for fusion that can be used today. Does it have any real advantage to the VASIMR engine? Is it further along in development than the VASIMR engine? Fusion is the ultimate answer to every energy need but for energy use in our energy economy one must not forget that fusion won't be viable for 50 years, maybe 100. To power our economy we need solar, wind, biomass, and today's best fission method (Generation IV) reactors. It's interesting to note my original estimates of what it would cost to convert the Coal Plant's to LFTR Nuclear Reactors might be off by a factor of 4 or 5 (for the cheaper but I have to rerun the numbers on my calculations ) This is due to a more detailed capital costs study that was done. I will post it here when I finish the calculations in the next few days. http://rawcell.com
Eikka
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 05, 2013
In comparison between powerplants and rocket engines; the rocket engine doesn't need to achieve power break-even or to become self-sustaining. That's not the point.

The point is that the forced fusion accelerates the plasma to extremely high velocities. The effective exhaust velocity of a rocket engine directly affects its specific impulse.

The faster the exhaust stream, the less propellant you need for the trip, because you are causing a greater change of velocity in the reaction mass which gives you more force per unit mass of fuel, or as it is commonly measured, more seconds of thrust per given amount of fuel and thrust.

thingumbobesquire
1 / 5 (4) Apr 05, 2013
Hmm... Fusion propulsion: news in 2013? Here's what "extremist" LaRouche put on as a Presidential ad in...1988...http://www.youtub...c3Co7Qjk
Humpty
1 / 5 (8) Apr 05, 2013
It would be really interesting, if Challenger-like catastrophe would happen with nuclear powered rocket in the atmosphere. The Arabs would have their job done.


I can't tell. Are you serious?


Yes he is serious and you are an idiot.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.8 / 5 (10) Apr 05, 2013
How can NASA afford this when their funding is cut? Great ideas but do they have the money.. unless they partner up with ESA i guess.
They're trying to EARN the money. They're looking at all sorts of things like LENR, reactionless drive, zero point energy, Alcubierre drive, Etc.

DuPont used to spend 7 years or so on research and then shift funding to production for 7 years. I suspect NASA is waiting for new research to mature before asking for money for development.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) Apr 05, 2013
Sorry, but our "nearest planetary neighbor" is not Mars.
It's Venus.

Only some of the time.
InterPur
1 / 5 (3) Apr 05, 2013
antialias, they did not make that distinction, so I felt I did not have to either.
philw1776
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 05, 2013
VASIMR produces low thrust. No 1 G to Mars fantasies with VASIMR. This concept is a by product of their fusion power plant development and much easier to achieve. No net gain of power from fusion required for the rocket as some mistakenly think. Also no wasteful conversion of heat from fusion to electricity required either as the detonation plasma is the rocket ejection. Clever folks. I wish them success. Use SpaceX Falcon 9 Heavy launchers and assemble a large interplanetary fusion craft in LEO and off to Mars goes Elon Musk and his colonists. It will happen a couple decades from now, likely by 2035.
cyberCMDR
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 05, 2013
Can't wait for the first gen impulse engines. When do we get warp drive?
Neinsense99
1.8 / 5 (10) Apr 06, 2013
Just checking... Yes, this thread has had the obligatory Cold Foolyousion comment already. Some things in this universe are predictable.
Neinsense99
3 / 5 (10) Apr 06, 2013
wouldn't it be simpler to have small canisters pre-filled with plasma that you compress to get fusion,
Yes, it would, if this was blood plasma. This is the electrically-charged kind.
Erik
5 / 5 (1) Apr 06, 2013
What happened to the 3 months round trip we would have using VASIMR?
http://phys.org/n...552.html


It needs a really big battery! ;-) Maybe the Russia space reactor?
EyeNStein
1.3 / 5 (13) Apr 07, 2013
Fusion would be an ideal power source for space propulsion, but this isn't the way to do it.
10's of Megawatts are needed but compressing that into infrequent explosions will just shake your craft to bits before it reaches Mars.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.1 / 5 (10) Apr 07, 2013
Fusion would be an ideal power source for space propulsion, but this isn't the way to do it.
10's of Megawatts are needed but compressing that into infrequent explosions will just shake your craft to bits before it reaches Mars.
And you never explored the refs to project Orion which were presented earlier in the thread. Extensive research by Freeman dyson and others showed it was indeed very workable. So stay uninformed.

Ramjets have also been used within the atmosphere to great effect.
eric96
1.5 / 5 (8) Apr 08, 2013
Nasa is absolutely retarded. If you want to do it cheap, then sail solar. Hell, make a capsule, attach the solar sails, get max speed around earth, then deploy rocket or ION drive in adjunct and away you go. And if your really really smart, you'll go around earth and time your escape to coincide with a sun storm reaching earth; they will give you a nice boost :)
And use parachutes to land; that's Mars on the cheap; but fok Mars it a sandbox, go to Jupiter.

It's not rocket science.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) Apr 08, 2013
If you want to do it cheap, then sail solar.

The point of this drive is to get there in an appreciable amount of time. Radiation exposure is a big issue on such a 'deep space' trip. Current ion drives also have excessively slow acceleration, so they suffer from the same problems as solar sails do.

Sitting in a can, waiting for it to speed up with solar sails/ion drives takes forever. The 'away we go' and 'use parachutes to land' lines are a fantasy (and to use your own words: retarded). That's not how space travel works.

You should watch less Hollywood movies and do a bit more physics/math before posting.
El_Nose
2.5 / 5 (2) Apr 08, 2013
@eric96

this is not about cheap it is about fast.

Humans and space just don't get along - all that ionizing radiation ... so we need to cut down the time. solar sails are really really slow. And to get any good speed out of them they have to first do a close orbit of the sun to gain speed -- and that takes a few months... otherwise from our position from the sun it takes a really really long time to get them moving -- and thats with no cargo

and a solar storms is 1 unpredictablable and 2 would kill the humans on board
EyeNStein
1.4 / 5 (11) Apr 08, 2013
This is more practical than the old "nuclear rocket" project Orion. As it doesn't have to carry copious masses of very heavy elements nor explode them in units over critical mass (>6kg) every time. (Fusion doesn't have a critical mass as such.) However explosions and spacecraft still don't mix for long duration, high reliability, man rated missions - No matter what Dyson thought.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (7) Apr 08, 2013
However explosions and spacecraft still don't mix for long duration, high reliability, man rated missions - No matter what Dyson thought
Unwarranted opinion. Internal combustion works fine doesn't it? Engineers made that work and they can do the same with this.
EyeNStein
1.4 / 5 (10) Apr 08, 2013
@ghost
Thanks for illustrating my point: Internal COMBUSTION engines are not explosion based. Detonation rather than deflagration would damage the engine.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (8) Apr 08, 2013
@ghost
Thanks for illustrating my point: Internal COMBUSTION engines are not explosion based. Detonation rather than deflagration would damage the engine.
Sorry I know the difference. This is only a matter of velocity of the burn and implies nothing about the forces imparted to the vehicle structure or how it can be designed to resist them by engineers who know how to do this.

Which it can, per the participants of project orion and the designers of things like the atomic cannon and the V-1.

You didnt watch the dyson video? They did 100s of experiments to prove the viability of the concept. How many did you do?
EyeNStein
1.4 / 5 (10) Apr 08, 2013
Sometimes a well constructed thought experiment is more effective than your extrapolation from short duration chemical explosion experiments to long duration space flight.
You could indeed engineer a hamster cage onto the front of a railway locomotive propelled by TNT explosions but would it be a good way to move hamsters around.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.1 / 5 (7) Apr 08, 2013
Sometimes a well constructed thought experiment is more effective than your extrapolation from short duration chemical explosion experiments to long duration space flight
When would that be? When engineers and scientists would fail to notice perhaps?
You could indeed engineer a hamster cage onto the front of a railway locomotive propelled by TNT explosions but would it be a good way to move hamsters around
And this absurdity would get engineers to giggle indeed. But they would be giggling at you, not with you.

Engineers and scientists concluded from the studies and experiments THEY DID for project orion that the proposal was feasible. And so did the people involved in the project discussed in the article above. Why do you insist on making yourself look silly by questioning this?
Neinsense99
2.1 / 5 (7) Apr 08, 2013
Re this concept in fiction, the human warship in Footfall, named Michael, was not propelled by this type of drive. It used small fission bombs. The Fithp ship, on the other hand, was fusion powered. I read it more than once back in the late 80s.
EyeNStein
1.4 / 5 (11) Apr 09, 2013
@ghost
It could be because I am an engineer and scientist with more years of experience with modes of failure in systems. Humour is a useful tool in thought experiments. Haven't you heard of a certain cat absurdly stuck in a box with some deadly electronics?
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (6) Apr 09, 2013
t could be because I am an engineer and scientist with more years of experience with modes of failure in systems.
But you show no respect for genuine engrs/scientists who spent many hours on studies and experiments to prove out a concept which you yourself have spent absolutely no time or effort on at all.

You havent even made the effort to review their results. Have you?

Perhaps you are the kind of engr/scientist/expert who would say something like this:

"That is the biggest fool thing we have ever done. The [atomic] bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives." -Admiral Leahy is quoted as saying to President Truman (1945)

-which you have, in multiple posts.
Re this concept in fiction, the human warship in Footfall, named Michael, was not propelled by this type of drive. It used small fission bombs
Correct. ORION. The above is a new concept.
EyeNStein
1 / 5 (8) Apr 09, 2013
@ghost
A real 'genuine' engineer is always sceptical, up to a point, about the decisions, assumptions and compromises made by fellow engineers. 50% of missions to Mars have failed. Only a 'genuine' fool writes them all off as unavoidable unpredictable accidents.
The high oxygen atmosphere that killed Apollo 1, the faulty thermostat specification in Apollo 13, the burned rubber rings of challenger and fragile wing edges of Columbia were all 'accidents waiting to happen'
In my considered engineering opinion propelling a spacecraft by prolonged repeated concussive force of detonated fusion 'neutron bombs' (where 80% of the fuel energy is released as fast neutrons.) is another accident waiting to happen due to similar component reliability concerns: In the context of this engine design; with shock pulsed magnetic coils, precise lithium jacketing alignment and a shock stressed engine bell as Multiple single points of failure.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.4 / 5 (5) Apr 10, 2013
I see... so you think that listing a few failures of unrelated engineering efforts justifies rejecting THIS particular one without even taking a look? Pretty unscientific.
Multiple single points of failure
Potential failure, you mean. Competent scientists and engineers have already addressed the concerns you thought of, and many more which you did not.
'neutron bombs' (where 80% of the fuel energy is released as fast neutrons.)
"Virtually all of the radiant, neutron and particle energy from the plasma is absorbed by the encapsulating, metal blanket thereby isolating the spacecraft from the fusion process and eliminating the need for large radiator mass."
In my considered engineering opinion
Which, after all, is fairly worthless isnt it? Because you havent even taken the time to educate yourself on the specifics of the project, or on the work that these people have done to address your concerns.

Why not? Leahy thought he knew enough about a-bombs too didnt he?
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.4 / 5 (5) Apr 10, 2013
In my considered engineering opinion
Any competent engineer would have taken the time to educate him- or herself before they ventured an opinion. Maybe you have forgotten how to be an engineer - has it been that long?

Or maybe you are just pretending as others here tend to do. Like this freak:
Nope...I have never denied being an Engineer. I earn over a quarter million dollars per year on the job as an Engineer
EyeNStein
1.4 / 5 (11) Apr 10, 2013
@ghost how sad
your arguments reduced to personal attacks and semantics. Hoped I'd found a fellow engineer, not a fan of faded black and white footage of ancient Orion experiments. #
High energy neutrons are the most penetrating ionising radiation there is; but At least they plan to use lithium which has a high neutron absorption cross section. I wonder how much lithium will end up splattered over the insides of the engine, before the compression coils shake themselves into failure (IMO).
However I wish them well and look forward to their long term trial test results on the completed system with actual D-T fuel.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.4 / 5 (5) Apr 10, 2013
but At least they plan to use lithium which has a high neutron absorption
-Which you werent aware of until I looked it up for you. No matter, your opinions supersede actual knowledge.
I wonder how much lithium will end up splattered over the insides of the engine, before the compression coils shake themselves into failure
I wonder why you wouldnt think competent engrs would have thought of this before you. I wonder why you wouldnt follow the links and find out for yourself instead of just guessing.

After all they are experts who have spent months immersed in the project and you are just a guesser who couldnt be bothered.
(IMO)
-And weve determined that thats not worth very much havent we?

How sad.
EyeNStein
1 / 5 (9) Apr 11, 2013
@ghost
You seem to be unreasonably in awe of the engineers at NASA. They have feet of clay just like the rest of us. You've lost sight of the engineering axiom that 'if it can go wrong it eventually will'. There is only one way to do anything in space, that's to do it right. My previous list of sad events from Apollo 1 to Columbia show where design flaws caused disasters.
As an experienced engineer, I judge this engine design is another risk too far. It looks like a great forward thinking solution to the power/weight problem in space, but if it only works correctly 99.99% of the time it will kill someone. How does this engine handle a misfire, where the plasma only partially detonates and throws shards of lithium metal into the works of the engine?
As for the other matters: How dare you assume my level of ignorance is greater than your own. As soon as I saw this design I remembered the "Castle Bravo" fusion boosted weapon disaster. Where a lithium7 shell caused a deadly neutron flux.
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (4) Apr 11, 2013
I guess there is just simple math involved:
There is no system that is 100% proof against failure. I.e. your MTBF (mean time between failure) is always less than infinite. Plug enough parts with a non-infinite MTBF together and the MTBF of your whole system becomes arbitrarily low.

Even if engineers wanted to construct perfect systems. There's always the real world issues. Even NASA does not have:
- infinite time to design/build
- infinite time to test
- infinite resources

So any system will just be "as good as possible under the circumstances"

But if they can manufacture this drive and show that the MTBF of the system is long enough so that a trip to Mars (or wherever) has a reasonable* chance of being successful then that's good enough.

Also remember: faster drive means less 'T' (in the MTBF) to worry about. So the drive can even be more shoddy/error prone than vastly slower ones and still be more reliable over the duration of a mission.

* for a given value of 'reasonable'
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.4 / 5 (5) Apr 11, 2013
You seem to be unreasonably in awe of the engineers at NASA. They have feet of clay just like the rest of us
They WORKED on the project. You didn't even bother to LOOK IT UP.
You've lost sight of the engineering axiom that 'if it can go wrong it eventually will'.
But I can still see that youre a lazy armchair pontificate.
As an experienced engineer, I judge this engine design is another risk too far.
How could you? You know nothing about it or projects like it, re Orion.. Because you're too lazy to look it up. You're too LAZY to learn anything about it.
How dare you assume my level of ignorance is greater than your own
Because I bother to research a topic before commenting on it.

From all this we can conclude that 1) if you were once an engineer, you aren't one now; or 2) you're a lying troll.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.6 / 5 (5) Apr 11, 2013
How does this engine handle a misfire, where the plasma only partially detonates and throws shards of lithium metal into the works of the engine?
Why are you asking me?? Why don't you look it the fuck UP?
EyeNStein
1 / 5 (9) Apr 12, 2013
@ghost: I asked you in another last ditch attempt to open your eyes. The answer will not be there to read. The public facing document will be like a sales brochure. Scary topics like misfires will be predictably absent.
EyeNStein
1 / 5 (9) Apr 12, 2013
@ antialias: You are right 100% isn't achievable. But even 99.99% may not be enough in some applications. The latter figure implies one fail in every 10,000. This would be once every 7 days of operation at one firing a minute).
we will not get a realistic failure rate for this experiment until they test it with real fusion, on a long term basis. I look forward to it. We could do with a reliable mars solution.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (4) Apr 12, 2013
The latter figure implies one fail in every 10,000. This would be once every 7 days of operation at one firing a minute

Risk assessment is really more complicated than that. There are many types of failure. If the failure is just "fails to ignite fully" then that's just a pellet (patrially) wasted, but not really a problem. A containment unit that can contain a full blast should not be stressed by a partial one.

If it's "blows up with more force than anticipated" then that's a different picture. Though I don't see how that can happen, as the maximum energy content in the pellets is determined by their size. And that is determined by the manufacturing process and limited by the delivery system.

But I agree: this needs to be tested. If it can show sustained operation for the duration of a Mars mission then it seems worthwhile.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.6 / 5 (5) Apr 12, 2013
@ghost: I asked you in another last ditch attempt to open your eyes. The answer will not be there to read. The public facing document will be like a sales brochure. Scary topics like misfires will be predictably absent.
Well if people like you and admiral leahy were in charge of space programs, we never would have gotten off the planet. Lucky for us, they're not.

You do studies, you build prototypes, you test them to failure, you learn, you improve until you have a dependable system. This is how the space program has gotten this far already.

If you had done any reading at all you would have found out that this is exactly how the people who are developing this system intend to proceed.

But you didn't, opting instead for follow-on bullshit. Bullshit to justify bullshit. Bullshit as an end in itself. You done pumping yet?
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.6 / 5 (5) Apr 12, 2013
But I agree: this needs to be tested. If it can show sustained operation for the duration of a Mars mission then it seems worthwhile
I repeat: If you had done any reading at all you would have found out that this is exactly how the people who are developing this system intend to proceed.

Oh was that you AA? neither of you seems to read very much-
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.4 / 5 (5) Apr 12, 2013
"The chance of an accident occurring during launch (in which the orbiter is destroyed, such as with the Challenger accident) is 1 in 556, and 1 in 265 for the whole mission, by some studies. However, some estimates put the chances much higher, at about 1 in 100. By contrast, the probability of an airliner crash is around 1 in 12 million. Flying in space is very risky."
EyeNStein
1 / 5 (9) Apr 12, 2013
Thanks @Antialias
I do realise that.
I only use kindergarten arguments so that all/most of the readers understand. As I'm never sure who I talking to. And because of the limited space in these comments boxes.
EyeNStein
1.4 / 5 (10) Apr 12, 2013
Hi @ghost
I see your still ranting and squirming on the hook, no matter how often I disprove your assumptions or try to expand your horizons beyond the obvious.
Hope your enjoying it, I'm getting bored now.