Published On: Mon, Jan 29th, 2018

MISSION TO MARS: Is nuclear fusion key to rocket fast enough to land humans on Red Planet? | Science | News

Richard Dinan, a former star of Channel 4 reality TV show Made In Chelsea star, runs Applied Fusion Systems, which is trying to develop a nuclear fusion reactor small and light enough to fit inside a rocket, to make interstellar space missions feasible.

Scientists are currently trying to develop the world’s first nuclear fusion reactor to create a clean and renewable power source to solve the world’s energy crisis.

It is hoped it could be ready by 2030.

However, Mr Dinan believes it could also be the future of space travel.

He is the author of The Fusion Age, a book exploring the possibilities of new nuclear technologies. 

He said: “Applied Fusion is a researcher and developer of nuclear fusion technology – specifically small reactors and the technologies which can be applied from the manufacture of these reactors.

“There hasn’t been the same level of funding in fusion as there has been in fission as it cannot be weaponised. 

“Now I think people are starting to realise just how significant the fusion milestone will be for so much innovation. It’s a new age and it’s getting real very quickly.

“Fusion is about emulating what happens within a star. One way of doing it is a tokamak device which is a donut shaped vessel, a vacuum vessel, where we use very powerful electro-magnetic coils to crush and confine a plasma.

“By heating plasma to a very high temperature, you give the particles within it a chance to overcome their electrostatic propulsion to each other.

“And if they come close enough they can fuse releasing in this case a neutron. A neutron is not a charged particle so it escapes our magnetic fields and flies out to collide with the walls of the reactor. 

“The kinetic energy from the neutron converts into heat which we can use to drive a conventional steam turbine.

“If you can harness fusion power for electricity then you can also harness it for rocket thrusters. Applied Fusion has been working on building reactors specifically for this purpose.

“We’re building reactors on the scale that we believe are the right size. Much more cost effective to build. Smaller and lighter, the advantages are that you could send a rocket a lot further and a lot faster, whist generating large amounts of surplus electricity to power on board, energy intensive robotic missions.”

He said it has been shown that fusion thrusters have the potential to generate exhaust velocities fast enough to potentially halve mission times to Mars.

Nuclear fusion is a limitless, safe energy sources from plentiful materials from seawater and the Earth’s crust.

Nuclear fusion aims to copy the process which powers the Sun for a new large-scale source of energy here on Earth. 

When light atomic nuclei fuse together to form heavier ones, a large amount of energy is released. 

To do this, fuel is heated to form a plasma in which fusion reactions take place.

A commercial power station will use the energy produced by fusion reactions to generate electricity.

It is considered a green energy source with no carbon emissions or long-term radioactive waste product. 

It is also inexhaustible as the hydrogen comes from sea water and lithium.

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