Pulsar Fusion, a company specializing in space propulsion, has begun construction of what it claims is the largest practical nuclear fusion engine ever. This tech giant could reach exhaust speeds in excess of 800.000 km/h. Yes, you got it right, we're talking speeds that far exceed those of our current rockets.
An interplanetary journey in the blink of an eye
Breakthrough nuclear fusion engine technology could dramatically reduce transit times to Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and even beyond the solar system. For example, there is a growing interest in the possibility of life on Titan, one of Saturn's moons. With Pulsar Fusion's nuclear fusion-powered propulsion system, the trip could be made in two years instead of decades.
That's not all: the company claims that this technology could potentially propel a spacecraft with a mass of about 1.000 kg towards Pluto in just 4 years.
Humanity is in dire need of faster propulsion in our growing space economy, and fusion offers 1.000 times the power of conventional ion thrusters currently used in orbit.
In short, if humans are going to make nuclear fusion for energy, the nuclear fusion drive in space will be obvious, inevitable. Well: we believe that fusion propulsion will be demonstrated in space decades before we can harness fusion for energy on Earth.Richard Dinan, founder and CEO of Pulsar Fusion.
A nuclear engine that does more than push
Pulsar Fusion's new direct fusion (DFD) nuclear engine could provide both thrust and electrical power for spacecraft. The rocket engine is expected to reach temperatures of several hundred million degrees, creating an environment hotter than the Sun. DFD engines are ideal for space travel as the energy produced would be clean, virtually unlimited, and the nuclear engine would be relatively compact.
The company is working on the engine at a test facility in Bletchley, England. DFD engines can produce thrust without the need for an intermediary, electricity generation step. In a DFD system, the fusion reactor generates energy, creating a plasma of electrically charged particles. These energetic particles are converted into thrust using a rotating magnetic field.
The challenges of the nuclear fusion engine
After the opportunities, consider the obstacles to an achievement like the nuclear space engine. First, confining superhot fusion plasma to an electromagnetic field is a huge challenge.
To better understand plasma behavior, Pulsar Fusion is teaming up with Princeton Satellite Systems (PSS), an aerospace research and development firm. The idea is to apply artificial intelligence and machine learning to study data from the Princeton Reverse Field Configuration Reactor (PFRC-2).
The simulations will evaluate the performance of nuclear fusion plasma for propulsion as it exits a rocket engine emitting exhaust particles at hundreds of kilometers per second.
We are still in the theoretical sphere, but the feeling is that the technology to pass to the advanced stage is already all there.
The future is around the corner
Pulsar Fusion has just proceeded to phase 3, the production of the initial test unit. Static testing is expected to begin in 2024, followed by an in-orbit demonstration of the technology in 2027.
If all goes as planned, we could be on the threshold of a new era of space exploration. An all interstellar era.