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Z-Pinch Pulsed Plasma Propulsion Technology DevelopmentFusion-based propulsion can enable fast interplanetary transportation. Magneto-inertial fusion (MIF) is an approach which has been shown to potentially lead to a low cost, small reactor for fusion break even. The Z-Pinch/dense plasma focus method is an MIF concept in which a column of gas is compressed to thermonuclear conditions by an axial current (I approximates 100 MA). Recent advancements in experiments and the theoretical understanding of this concept suggest favorable scaling of fusion power output yield as I(sup 4). This document presents a conceptual design of a Z-Pinch fusion propulsion system and a vehicle for human exploration. The purpose of this study is to apply Z-Pinch fusion principles to the design of a propulsion system for an interplanetary spacecraft. This study took four steps in service of that objective; these steps are identified below. 1. Z-Pinch Modeling and Analysis: There is a wealth of literature characterizing Z-Pinch physics and existing Z-Pinch physics models. In order to be useful in engineering analysis, simplified Z-Pinch fusion thermodynamic models are required to give propulsion engineers the quantity of plasma, plasma temperature, rate of expansion, etc. The study team developed these models in this study. 2. Propulsion Modeling and Analysis: While the Z-Pinch models characterize the fusion process itself, propulsion models calculate the parameters that characterize the propulsion system (thrust, specific impulse, etc.) The study team developed a Z-Pinch propulsion model and used it to determine the best values for pulse rate, amount of propellant per pulse, and mixture ratio of the D-T and liner materials as well as the resulting thrust and specific impulse of the system. 3. Mission Analysis: Several potential missions were studied. Trajectory analysis using data from the propulsion model was used to determine the duration of the propulsion burns, the amount of propellant expended to complete each mission considered. 4. Vehicle Design: To understand the applicability of Z-Pinch propulsion to interplanetary travel, it is necessary to design a concept vehicle that uses it -- the propulsion system significantly impacts the design of the electrical, thermal control, avionics and structural subsystems of a vehicle. The study team developed a conceptual design of an interplanetary vehicle that transports crew and cargo to Mars and back and can be reused for other missions. Several aspects of this vehicle are based on a previous crewed fusion vehicle study -- the Human Outer Planet Exploration (HOPE) Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) vehicle. Portions of the vehicle design were used outright and others were modified from the MTF design in order to maintain comparability.
Document ID
Document Type
Polsgrove, Tara (NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL, United States)
Adams, Robert B. (NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL, United States)
Fabisinski, Leo (ISSI, Inc. Vienna, VA, United States)
Fincher, Sharon (NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL, United States)
Maples, C. Dauphne (Qualis Corp. Huntsville, AL, United States)
Miernik, Janie (ERC International, Inc. San Diego, CA, United States)
Percy, Tom (SAIC Ltd. Cambridge, United Kingdom)
Statham, Geoff (ERC International, Inc. San Diego, CA, United States)
Turner, Matt (Alabama Univ. AL, United States)
Cassibry, Jason (Alabama Univ. AL, United States)
Cortez, Ross (Alabama Univ. AL, United States)
Santarius, John (Washington Univ. Richland, WA, United States)
Date Acquired
August 25, 2013
Publication Date
October 8, 2010
Subject Category
Spacecraft Propulsion and Power
Report/Patent Number
Distribution Limits
Public Use Permitted.

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