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NASA-backed fusion rocket could blast astronauts to Mars and back in 30 days

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Work is about to start on a rocket that could get astronauts to Mars in just 30 days.

A fusion engine could cut a round trip to the Red Planet to a month rather than the four-year round trip currently expected, cutting costs and the health risks to crew.

The NASA-backed project will use the nuclear technology to power a manned spacecraft up to speeds of 200,000mph ? and it could be ready to fly within seven years.

?Using existing rocket fuels, it?s nearly impossible for humans to explore much beyond Earth,? said John Slough, lead researcher with a team at the University of Washington, US.

?We are hoping to give us a much more powerful source of energy in space that could eventually lead to making interplanetary travel commonplace.?

The proposed Fusion Driven Rocket (FDR) uses magnetism to compress metal bands around a tiny pellet of hydrogen isotopes to create a propellant seven million times denser than conventional rocket fuel ? and much more powerful.

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Astronauts could reach the surface of Mars in a month (Picture: File)

A pellet the size of a grain of sand would provide the same propellant as a gallon of conventional rocket fuel, say experts.

Shorter flight times reduce the crew?s exposure to harmful solar radiation, while a vastly smaller volume of fuel cuts costs and allows more room for astronauts or cargo.

Although electricity is needed to run the rocket, researchers say a a 150-ton spacecraft could use solar power.

Flight times to the Red Planet could then take between 30 and 90 days, compared to over eight months that it took to send the Curiosity rover to Mars.

The rocket would not need to run constantly ? instead, a three-day blast is enough to get the spacecraft up to speed and another three would be needed to slow it down for an orbit around Mars.

It would send out regular pulses of thrust, cutting the risk of dangerous g-forces to the spacecraft?s occupants.

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A NIAC program project at NASA, it magnetically implodes lithium rings around a blob of plasma. The resulting high temperature "exhaust" is channelled out through a magnetic nozzle. They've tested it with aluminum rings so far, and plan on going to prototype by this fall. The output isn't constant but pulsed, firing every few minutes.

Basic info:

http://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/niac/2012_phaseII_fellows_slough.html

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This technology sounds awesome. Though I wonder how the solar-powered reactor would behave when it's farther from the Sun. It may work well to get people to Mars, but would it work as well/at all once they're out there?

...it magnetically implodes lithium rings around a blob of plasma...

That is, literally, the coolest, real-world thing I have ever heard.

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It's essentially a combination of magnetic and inertial confinement fusion. The imploding liners compress & heat the plasmoid, causing it to fuse. Its heat converts the liners to an even larger hot plasmoid which is still magnetically confined, but directed out through the magnetic nozzle. This far larger mass moving very fast provides the thrust.

2012 NIAC paper (progress since)

http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/636883main_FDR_talk_NIAC_2012_final.pdf

Some animations to clarify the process -

Axial view: 3 liners compressing plasmoid

Side view: 3 liners compressing plasmoid

Magnetic flow nozzle

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wow...

200.000 mph, that's fast.

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That's amazing! If it really happens we might be able to go further?

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Further and faster. Mars would be a few weeks vs several months.

Updated info: the plasmoid is the usual deuterium-tritium (D-T) mix used in inertial fusion, and the target pulse rate is now down to every 10 seconds.

The trick is reloading the rings, but compared to getting them to symmetrically implode that's simple. There are probably ways around even using rings to get a near continuous output, but that's another subject (think: coaxial plasmas.).

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What kind of G force would this method produce?

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... Man, I love science!

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What kind of G force would this method produce?

Not much. The idea isn't accelerating rapidly, which is what would produce significant G loads, but accelrrating continuously over a long period of time. That gives you a high specific impulse (ISP in rocket terms) and that gives the higher speeds. Want gravity on a ship? Add a centrifuge habitat like on 2001's Discovery.

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That's awesome. And why stop at Mars? With a drive like that we can go beyond Mars.

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Hope they have Radiation shields too ...

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Hope they have Radiation shields too ...

Energy based shields are being worked on too. Looks very promising.

http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/637131main_radiation%20shielding_symposium_r1.pdf

NASA JSC Solicitation: Development of the Expandable Coil Concept

Synopsis - Jan 03, 2013

General Information

Solicitation Number: NNJ13457646Q

Posted Date: Jan 03, 2013

FedBizOpps Posted Date: Jan 03, 2013

Recovery and Reinvestment Act Action: No

Original Response Date: Jan 16, 2013

Current Response Date: Jan 16, 2013

Classification Code: A -- Research and Development

NAICS Code: 541712

Set-Aside Code: Total Small Business

Contracting Office Address

NASA/Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston Texas, 77058-3696, Mail Code: BH

Description

NASA/JSC has a requirement to continue the study of active radiation shielding for crew protection, a key challenge with human exploration of space. The study will include scalability of the coil configuration and magnet concept; further develop the 6+1 coil array and compensation coil concept for conductor placement, and loads as well as supporting structure. Preliminary concepts will be developed for managing fringe fields. Quench performance will be evaluated and a technology roadmap will be developed.

NASA/JSC intends to award to Advanced Magnet Lab (AML). AML has the patented coil configuration concept and approach for radiation shielding and has the proprietary software tool, CoilCAD which provides advanced 3D coil design. AML developed the 6 around 1 coil concept which includes state-of-the-art magnet tape for active radiation protection. AML also has patents on a "Double Helix" design for magnetic coils used in space shield. The Double Helix magnet technology allows nearly limitless configurations of magnetic field shapes.

The Government intends to acquire a commercial item using FAR Part 12.

>

>

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Instead of travelling to barren planets, why not use that technology to power Earth. I am far more interested in green fuel to power our own planet instead of sending some astronauts to odder space.

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Instead of travelling to barren planets, why not use that technology to power Earth. I am far more interested in green fuel to power our own planet instead of sending some astronauts to odder space.

They're close to working on that as well, in fact there was a recent breakthrough in fusion power.

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This tech does not produce electricity just thrust. It is needed for long distance space travel without using hundreds of tons of fuel. Mileage and sudtainability count for spacecraft too.

There are plenty of fusion power concepts, including the National Ignition Facility at the Livermore National Laboratory and the Z-Pinch tech being developed at the Sandia National Laboratory, the U. of California San Diego, the U. of Michigan and others.

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Unfortunately, with the government shutdown, mankind isn't going anywhere. Maybe it's time to offload NASA to a private investor... :/

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Cool name :D

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Can they put this on automobiles? I would like to drive from New York to Seattle in 30 minutes.

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Sorry - low thrust, long run time. Useful only in space. Have to keep waiting for Mr. Fusion for your DeLorean.

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Yes getting to mars is cool and all but this technology sounds like it belongs in weaponry.  Arm the fusion lasers! pew pew Mr bond.

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Fusion weapons were developed first, way back in 1952 with the Ivy Mike test. This is a non-destructive use.

An x-ray laser already exists. Some proposed versions would be weapons using a nuke or a reactpr as a trigger. There were proof of concept underground tests in the 1980's.

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