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Record 4 of 8210
Fusion for Space Propulsion
Author and Affiliation:
Thio, Y. C. Francis(NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL United States)
Schafer, Charles [Technical Monitor]
Abstract: There is little doubt that humans will attempt to explore and develop the solar system in this century. A large amount of energy will be required for accomplishing this. The need for fusion propulsion is discussed. For a propulsion system, there are three important thermodynamical attributes: (1) The absolute amount of energy available, (2) the propellant exhaust velocity, and (3) the jet power per unit mass of the propulsion system (specific power). For human exploration and development of the solar system, propellant exhaust velocity in excess of 100 km/s and specific power in excess of 10 kW/kg are required. Chemical combustion can produce exhaust velocity up to about 5 km/s. Nuclear fission processes typically result in producing energy in the form of heat that needs to be manipulated at temperatures limited by materials to about 2,800 K. Using the energy to heat a hydrogen propellant increases the exhaust velocity by only a factor of about two. Alternatively the energy can be converted into electricity which is then used to accelerate particles to high exhaust velocity. The necessary power conversion and conditioning equipment, however, increases the mass of the propulsion system for the same jet power by more than two orders of magnitude over chemical system, thus greatly limits the thrust-to-weight ratio attainable. The principal advantage of the fission process is that its development is relatively mature and is available right now. If fusion can be developed, fusion appears to have the best of all worlds in terms of propulsion - it can provide the absolute amount, the propellant exhaust velocity, and the high specific jet power. An intermediate step towards pure fusion propulsion is a bimodal system in which a fission reactor is used to provide some of the energy to drive a fusion propulsion unit. The technical issues related to fusion for space propulsion are discussed. The technical priorities for developing and applying fusion for propulsion are somewhat different from those for terrestrial electrical power generation. Thus fusion schemes that are initially attractive for electrical power generation might not necessarily be attractive also for propulsion and vice versa, though the underlying fusion science and engineering enjoy much overlap. Parallel efforts to develop these qualitatively differently fusion schemes for the two applications could benefit greatly from each other due to the synergy in the underlying physics and engineering. Pulsed approaches to fusion have not been explored to the same degree as steady-state or long-pulse approaches to fusion in the fusion power research program. The concerns early on were several. One was that the pulsed power components might not have the service lifetimes meeting the requirements of a practical power generating plant. Another was that, for many pulsed fusion schemes, it was not clear whether the destruction of hardware per pulse could be minimized or eliminated or recycled to such an extent as to make economical electrical power generation feasible, Significant development of the underlying pulsed power component technologies have occurred in the last two decades because of defense and other energy requirements. The state of development of the pulsed power technologies are sufficiently advanced now to make it compelling to visit or re-visit pulsed fusion approaches for application to propulsion where the cost of energy is not so demanding a factor as in the case of terrestrial power application. For propulsion application, the overall mass of the fusion system is the critical factor. Producing fusion reactions require extreme states of matter. Conceptually, these extreme states of matter are more readily realizable in the pulsed states, at least within appropriate bounds, than in the steady states. Significant saving in system mass may result in such systems. Magnetic fields are effective in confining plasma energy, whereas inertial compression is an effective way of heating and containing the plasma. Intensive research in developing magnetic energy containment and inertial plasma compression are being pursued in distinctively different fusion experiments in the terrestrial fusion power program. Fusion schemes that attempt to combine the favorable attributes of these two aspects into one single integrated fusion scheme appear to have benefits that are worth exploring for propulsion application.
Publication Date: Jan 01, 2001
Document ID:
(Acquired Mar 08, 2002)
Document Type: Preprint
Meeting Information: IEEE Pulsed Power Plasma Science Conference; 18-21 Jun. 2001; Las Vegas, NV; United States
Meeting Sponsor: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers; United States
Financial Sponsor: NASA Marshall Space Flight Center; Huntsville, AL United States
Organization Source: NASA Marshall Space Flight Center; Huntsville, AL United States
Description: 2p; In English
Distribution Limits: Unclassified; Publicly available; Unlimited
Rights: No Copyright
Availability Source: Other Sources
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