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Washington University builds fusion-powered rocket components

Researchers from University of Washington and research company MSNW prepare the next step in human space travel, by building the components for a fusion-powered rocket. Fusion propulsion is a potential answer to enable deep space journeys, for existing rocket fuels do not allow far distances from Earth. A fusion fuel volume as tiny as a grain of sand equals the energy content of a gallon of nowadays´ rocket fuel.

Funded by NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts Program, the research company MSNW is developing propulsion technologies with the goal to pave the way for more ambitious missions.

Conceptual design of a fusion-powered rocket, Copyright 2013 by MSNW, Washington University

The Road to Mars

The MSNW team calculated potentials for Mars expeditions, and estimated a fusion-taking one to three months. These are practical trips in terms of cost and duration, compared to NASA's estimates for the usage of current technologies: around four years, with launch costs exceeding 12 billion dollar.

John Slough, as President and Director of Research of MSNW and a Professor at the University of Washington, believes in the feasibility. Parts of the process are succesfully demonstrated and the next step is to combine the separate tests to one fusion experiment. 

The concept works as follows: a strong magnetic field causes large metal rings to implode around a plasma, which then reaches fusion conditions. The implosion takes place in microseconds, but the energy released from the fusion reactions is enough to heat and ionize the metal and blast it out of the nozzle. For spacecraft propulsion, the required frequency of implosions is foreseen at one per minute. The principle is shown schematically in this Youtube Video.

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