Wednesday, January 27, 2010

New IEC Fusion Research Group Opens

Space Ports reports the opening of an IEC Fusion Research facility to develop fusion for spacecraft propulsion.
AVRC has been awarded a contract by Wise County's Industrial Development Authority to manage a $7 million energy research center now under construction in the Lonesome Pine Business and Technology Park [PDF] in Wise, VA focused on the development of inertial electrostatic confinement aneutronic fusion energy at the Appalachia America Energy Research Center along with other projects in a significant energy technology portfilio.

Plans are in the works to conduct a multimillion-dollar research project in Wise to develop fusion technology into a cheap source for everything from electricity to spacecraft propulsion. Invented by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Dr. George Miley, the process involves pumping aerosol boron plasma into a spherical container where it is made very, very hot. The atoms begin to fuse, creating energy.

The project will start small, with about 6-8 researchers, and could employ 20-28 researchers within 18 months.
That is interesting.

Whose work is this based on? George Miley who I mentioned in A New Theory Of Electrodynamics. A look at the AVR page on fusion has some more hints.
The Intertial Electrostatice Confinement (IEC) Fusion Propulsion technology being promoted by AVRC was developed by Dr. George Miley.

Fusion reactions release an enormous amount of energy which is why there is such a large push for research in harnessing the energy for propulsion systems. A fusion propulsion system could have a specific impulse about 300 times greater than a conventional chemical rocket engine. Fusion-powered rockets would use hydrogen as a propellant, which means it would be able to replenish itself as it travels through space.
I wonder how they plan to fuse hydrogen which is very difficult to fuse because it requires converting a proton into a neutron to make the reaction work. Or maybe they just plan to use hydrogen gathered in space as reaction mass and plan to fuse something else. Sort of like a modified Bussard Ramjet.

AVR has a slide show in pdf of their design. It is a variant of a Farnsworth Fusor operating with 600 to 800 volt drive which will burn Hydrogen and Boron 11. I wonder how they plan to make it work with such low drive voltages? Perhaps their plan to begin with a Deuterium-Helium 3 fuel has something to do with it.

This paper [pdf} indicates that they are planning to use the IEC design as just a thruster to start with.
A novel plasma jet thruster, based on Inertial Electrostatic Confinement (IEC) technology, is proposed for ultra maneuverable - space thruster for satellite and small probe thrust operations. The IEC Jet design potential offers an unique capability to cover a wide range of powers (few Watts to Kilowatts) with good efficiency while providing a plasma jet that can start with a large diameter but be narrowed directionally to focus on targets The IEC thruster uses a spherical configuration, wherein ions are generated and accelerated towards the center of a spherical vacuum chamber A virtual cathode forms in the high-density central core region, combined with a locally distorted cathode grid potential field, extracts accelerated ions into an intense quasi-neutral ion jet. Thus, the IEC thruster is roughly analogous to a planar electrostatic ion thruster "folded" into spherical form. Estimates suggest that its electrical efficiency would match conventional plasma thrusters, while offering advantages in design simplicity, reduced erosion giving long life time, reduced propellant leakage losses, and high power-to-weight ratio. Heat rejection is eased due to large heated surface areas making the unit especially well suited to high power operation.
That might work. And if it does fusion could come later.

Kind of like the progression in piston pump technology. First you build pumps. Very handy. Then you apply steam and pumps become a power source. Then you figure out how to burn the fuel inside the cylinder and you get an internal combustion engine. Let's hope we can compress the development cycle from hundreds of years to a couple of decades.

Update: 1934z 29 Jan 2010

Next Big Future has more.


Brett said...

I'd assume it was just a typo, and they mean 600 Kilovolts, as that would be more in keeping with p-b fusion's requirements.

Although... If you add some magnetic confinement for the electrons, as the Bussard design does, theoretically you can get into a mode where the operating reactor supplies it's own electrical field, due to the electrons being confined, and the high energy reaction products, positive in charge, escaping the system. Injection of negatively charged fuel ions would not require high voltage in that case.

M. Simon said...

About 600 to 800 volts with electron injection might be sufficient if all you wanted was a thruster.