Fusion Propulsion at the Charger One Facility

Introduction

DM2 front_end
Charger 1 Output Line

The Charger 1 Facility is a state-of-the-art pulsed power facility currently being assembled at a laboratory at UAH, in collaboration with NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and The Boeing Company, and donated by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) under contract with L3 Communications, Pulsed Science Division. Charger 1 was formerly known as ‘DM2′. DM2 stands for Decade Module 2, a ~500 kJ capacitor bank, transfer line, and output line capable of 2 MA discharges at 3 TW of instantaneous power. The DM2 was the last prototype serving as a test bed for the design and construction of the much larger Decade Machine which was built and utilized at Arnold Air Force Base in Tennessee for nuclear weapons effects (NWE) testing. DM2 was built by L3 Pulsed Sciences, formerly Physics International, around 1995, and has had an active and important role in the development of advanced Plasma Radiation Sources (PRS) for the DTRA’s cold X-ray source development program.

Charger 1 is one of the latest inductive energy store, pulse power machines, and, along with linear transformer drivers, are among a very few technologies that can scale to the 60 to 100 MA needed for breakeven in thermonuclear fusion via pulsed z-pinch confinement. We began receiving shipments of the hardware as of May 8, 2012 and received the final shipment in early June. Reassembly is currently underway. Once operational in ~January of 2013, to our knowledge we (UAH) will have the world’s most powerful pulsed power machine that is located at a university.

Fusion Propulsion Roadmap

There is a long road ahead before we send humans throughout the solar system with a fusion propulsion system. A possible roadmap is shown below. One of the most critical technologies that must be developed first are reliable nuclear fission electric reactors for space power. Along the way, we believe that a sustained path to breakeven for propulsion can be paid for by utilizing Charger 1 for numerous plasma science experiments. In parallel, we will conduct subscale fusion experiments on Charger 1. Once these data are understood and consistent with theory and modeling, scaling laws will tell us how to design a breakeven facility. A Mars or other relatively nearby celestial body could be the destination of interest for testing subscale fusion propulsion components, as part of a broader science mission in which fusion is not in the critical path. Farther out, past breakeven experiments, deep space science missions can be conducted in roughly 1/3 the time of traditional propulsion systems. With confidence in the technology, eventually we can send humans to Mars and return them safely to Earth in a span of 6 to 7 months, about the same as expeditions to the International Space Station.

Degree-of-Difficulty

Fusion propulsion utilization roadmap beginning with Charger 1

“We are trying to develop a small, lightweight pulsed nuclear fusion system for deep space missions,” explained Dr. Jason Cassibry, an associate professor of engineering at UAHuntsville. “If this works we could reach Mars in six to eight weeks instead of six to eight months.”

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