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Flying Kettle: Fusion Propulsion to the Planets

A physics team from The University of Alabama in Huntsville's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering soon will take delivery of a specialized system to test their concept to develop a small, lightweight pulsed nuclear fusion power system. The pulsed engine they are trying to design will not lift a rocket out of the gravity well of Earth, but could be used for spacecrafts to run continuously for weeks after liftoff, e.g. to move the rocket out of orbit and toward another planet.

This month, big flatbed trucks were unloading combine-sized pieces of equipment at the university's lab deep on Redstone. When assembled, they will make a Decade Module Two (DM2) pulsed power generator. The DM2 consists of banks of capacitors that store an electrical charge for release on command.

The electrical charge will slam lithium and hydrogen atoms into each other and turn their mass into a tiny burst of pure energy. The tests could lead to a system that fuses lithium-deuterium pellets and uses an electromagnetic field as the nozzle for that the exhaust pushes against and also captures part of the energy to recharge the system.

That is the next area to tackle, if the Z-pinch approach proves out. As the university's press release nicely stated: "This is in no way a warp drive. At its heart, the pulsed fusion engine — like any other rocket engine — is a flying tea kettle. Cold material goes in, gets energized and hot gas pushes out".

Read the Press Release of the The University of Alabama in Huntsville.