Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Fusion Rocket Could Take Us To Mars

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the should-suffice-until-zefram-cochrane-does-his-thing dept.

Space 171

New submitter imikem writes "University of Washington researchers and scientists at a Redmond-based space-propulsion company are building components of a fusion-powered rocket aimed to clear many of the hurdles that block deep space travel, including long times in transit, exorbitant costs and health risks. 'Using existing rocket fuels, it's nearly impossible for humans to explore much beyond Earth,' said lead researcher John Slough, a UW research associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics. 'We are hoping to give us a much more powerful source of energy in space that could eventually lead to making interplanetary travel commonplace.' 'The research team has developed a type of plasma that is encased in its own magnetic field. Nuclear fusion occurs when this plasma is compressed to high pressure with a magnetic field. The team has successfully tested this technique in the lab. Only a small amount of fusion is needed to power a rocket – a small grain of sand of this material has the same energy content as 1 gallon of rocket fuel.'"

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Yuh huh (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43368837)

A magical space unicorn could take us to Mars.

There are a few small details to deal with regarding both potential technologies.

Re:Yuh huh (4, Informative)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year and a half ago | (#43368913)

I don't think practical fusion technologies are as far away as you're acting like they are. If you've been following fusion news, there are several projects that are getting pretty close to scientific net+(my favorite is the Focus Fusion experiment).

Re:Yuh huh (5, Insightful)

X0563511 (793323) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369095)

Lets not forget that the objective of the rocket is to move you, not generate usable energy. You don't necessarily have to have a net+ for this to be useful.

Think of it as a super high density fuel that just takes a lot of energy on the ground to process.

Re:Yuh huh (1, Troll)

chill (34294) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369183)

The Ford Focus Fusion is designed to move you.

Whoosh!

Re:Yuh huh (1)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369741)

Might as well use fission based energy then.

Re:Yuh huh (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43370033)

This is just a process for converting electrical power into propulsion with a decent specific impulse. If you wanted, you could generate the electricity with fission, or any other convenient way. However, this method should have better specific impulse than a more direct fission based drive (e.g. using the fission to heat the fuel), while being more efficient than other electricity based methods of a similar specific impulse.

Re:Yuh huh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43370089)

Well, sure you do! If you don't have a net+, you're just wasting energy. You take energy X and convert it to YX, which is then used for propulsion. That makes no sense. For that grain of salt to be used, you'd have to carry around 2 gallons of fuel.

Re:Yuh huh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43370447)

Unless your form of energy X is not useful for propulsion or every other method of using it for propulsion is less efficient for a desired specific impulse.

Re:Yuh huh (2)

Libertarian001 (453712) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369801)

I hear we're about 40 years away from viable fusion technology.

Re:Yuh huh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369981)

I dunno, the Z machine [sandia.gov] at Sandia looks pretty nice.

Clearly (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370063)

(my favorite is the Focus Fusion experiment)

Clearly a Ford man.

Re:Yuh huh (4, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | about a year and a half ago | (#43368933)

There are a few small details to deal with regarding both potential technologies.

Except we know how to create uncontrolled fusion, and a fusion rocket is closer to a hydrogen bomb than a fusion reactor. You're just trying to make fusion happen and throw the resulting plasma out the back, not keep the plasma in one place and generate power from it.

Re:Yuh huh (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369027)

So basically what you're saying is, "What could possibly go wrong?"

Re:Yuh huh (2, Funny)

ByOhTek (1181381) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369097)

boom.

Re:Yuh huh (3, Funny)

Anonyme Connard (218057) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369199)

In space no one can hear you boom.

Re:Yuh huh (2)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369091)

What about radiation shielding?

Re:Yuh huh (2)

mozkill (58658) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369203)

That's no problem. They use platics for that.

Re:Yuh huh (1)

binarylarry (1338699) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369219)

Pff radiation shielding is overrated.

And think of all the tasty settlers we could eat after a nice radiation bath.

Re:Yuh huh (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369387)

You can also make a really long space ship, with the engine at the far end. Most radiation will then miss the front end.

Re:Yuh huh (3, Interesting)

roc97007 (608802) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370293)

Ok, apologies if this is a joke that's wooshing over my head, but nuclear fusion produces very little radiation. A small fraction of the reaction energy is released in neutrons and some x-rays. Most of the energy is released as heat. I'm not a nuclear physicist, but hydrogen fusion is causing hydrogen atoms to smack into each other with enough energy that they fuse producing helium and a very large amount of energy. You're thinking perhaps of fission, which is when radioactive isotopes give off energy as they change into different radioactive isotopes. It's a completely different thing.

Re:Yuh huh (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369243)

You're thinking of fission. You don't need all that much shielding for fusion, that's the beauty of it!

Re:Yuh huh (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369787)

You need plenty of neutron shielding for fusion. But the advantage of having a spacecraft over a power plant is that you can use distance, by putting it on the end of a long structure, and that you won't care what the neutrons will do to the shielding and equipment on timescales longer than the mission.

Re:Yuh huh (1)

Redmancometh (2676319) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370005)

Classical fusion (not he-3/deuterium) emits extremely high energy neutrinos that tear up shielding. This I'd one of the major hurdles in *reactors.*

Re:Yuh huh (1)

RoccamOccam (953524) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370097)

Neutrinos? That doesn't sound right. Did you mean "neutrons" (and I honestly don't know)?

Re:Yuh huh (1)

0123456 (636235) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369245)

What about radiation shielding?

If you're using a nuclear rocket, you have plenty enough payload to add any required shielding. Besides, you want as many fusion products as possible to go out the back of the rocket, not the front.

Re:Yuh huh (1)

khallow (566160) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369555)

You're going to need radiation shielding anyway due to the uncontrolled nuclear reactor that sits at the center of the Solar System.

Re:Yuh huh (1)

Andy Dodd (701) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369767)

Actually that is fairly well controlled. Its excursions (flares, CMEs) are tiny compared to its steady-state output.

Problem is we don't know how to make a controlled reactor that isn't significantly bigger than the entire planet and uses gravity for confinment yet.

Roads? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43368855)

Marty, where we're going, we don't need roads......

nuclear fusion? (1, Redundant)

gbjbaanb (229885) | about a year and a half ago | (#43368859)

erm... if they've got nuclear fusion working, couldn't they just forget about Mars and work on making it available as a power source to replace conventional powerplants to solve the world's energy needs?

Re:nuclear fusion? (4, Insightful)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year and a half ago | (#43368877)

And if the fuels take more energy to prepare than they yield when reacted(tritium is one such fuel), then they're not very useful for energy production, but very useful for energy storage.

Re:nuclear fusion? (1)

chalkyj (927554) | about a year and a half ago | (#43368879)

Presumably it's not a way of generating power, but rather storing it. Who knows how efficient the generation of this plasma is, but you probably need to burn far more energy to create it than is produced when it is used.

Re:nuclear fusion? (4, Insightful)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about a year and a half ago | (#43368981)

This. It's all about specific impulse in space travel - which is a very separate concept to net energy production. There's no problem spending a lot of energy making rocket fuels on Earth, when the big cost multiplier is launch mass.

Re:nuclear fusion? (2)

Dan East (318230) | about a year and a half ago | (#43368953)

The purpose of this engine is to generate a very high speed ionized spray of lithium in a specific direction. How would that be converted into electrical energy? Generating kinetic energy (especially in space where waste byproducts just kinda go away) is extremely easy compared to generating electrical power.

Re:nuclear fusion? (5, Informative)

Waffle Iron (339739) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369071)

High-speed ions would actually be easier and more efficient to use for generating electricity than conventional thermal energy. You set up an opposing electric field with a voltage that corresponds to the ions' energy in MeV, and capture them once they've slowed down. This creates a direct electric current at that high voltage, without the need for Carnot cycles, steam equipment, heat exchangers, etc.

One of the attractions of aneutronic fusion is that most of the energy is released in the form of charged ions that can be harnessed in this way.

Re:nuclear fusion? (1)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369123)

High-speed ions would actually be easier and more efficient to use for generating electricity than conventional thermal energy. You set up an opposing electric field with a voltage that corresponds to the ions' energy in MeV, and capture them once they've slowed down. This creates a direct electric current at that high voltage, without the need for Carnot cycles, steam equipment, heat exchangers, etc.

One of the attractions of aneutronic fusion is that most of the energy is released in the form of charged ions that can be harnessed in this way.

Still depends on achieving efficient fusion. This doesn't have to be efficient - it's just a way of boosting the specific impulse you get from rocket fuel, using some other energy source (probably a fission reactor in a spacecraft) while also having a large enough impulse that it can get you around quickly. Ion engines are efficient - but you get up to speed slowly.

Re:nuclear fusion? (4, Insightful)

Chris Mattern (191822) | about a year and a half ago | (#43368967)

We've had nuclear fusion working for over sixty years now. [wikipedia.org] The trick has been containing it in a reactor for power generation. A fusion rocket might be easier to pull off--that's essentially just a semi-contained and directed H-bomb.

Re:nuclear fusion? (5, Interesting)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369057)

Worth noting, is that this concept is essentially the Orion engine without the heavy radioactives - the idea is essentially what we do in the hydrogen bomb.

Re:nuclear fusion? (1)

badhbhcatha (2889267) | about a year and a half ago | (#43368975)

These are two different problems - they can't solve the problem of creating a sustained fusion reaction, but they can still use a low-frequency pulsed drive for space travel - it's not necessarily that different from the Orion concept, just executed in a very different way.

Re:nuclear fusion? (2)

RevWaldo (1186281) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369025)

Creating a fusion reaction to create a very-hot-indeed metal plasma and spit the lot into outer space is one thing.

Creating a fusion reaction and containing the very-hot-indeed reaction inside a box, so you can draw off the heat to run a turbine, as multiple generations of despondent physicists will tell you, that's something else.

.

Re:nuclear fusion? (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370307)

erm... if they've got nuclear fusion working, couldn't they just forget about Mars and work on making it available as a power source to replace conventional powerplants to solve the world's energy needs?

I'm told we're fifty years away from that.

Is this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43368867)

...Polywell?!

penis (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43368869)

First. Penis

Re:penis (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43368903)

First. Penis

Well, you are a dick, so there's that.

Will it be added to ... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43368873)

Will it be added to Kerbal Space Program?
Can't wait to have a generator and fusion reactor!

Re:Will it be added to ... (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369125)

The Deep Space pack (and whatever that electrical pack is that goes with it) already have a nuclear reactor and ion engines.

Re:Will it be added to ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369961)

Nice! I downloaded it just to try it, but I guess I'll have to buy it since it's a good product :)

Re:Will it be added to ... (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370193)

Highly recommended. The mods really help too. [youtube.com]

British Sci-fi reference (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43368891)

Just do not let anyone with the demeanour of Brian Blessed captain the mission.

Re:British Sci-fi reference (1)

khallow (566160) | about a year and a half ago | (#43368961)

DIVE!!!! [youtube.com]

Required electricity (2)

schneidafunk (795759) | about a year and a half ago | (#43368911)

How is the electricity produced in the space ship for the nuclear fusion, would it also be nuclear? "The capacitors are hooked up to a giant magnet that houses the chamber where the fusion reaction will take place. With the flip of a switch, the capacitors are simultaneously triggered to deliver 1 million amps of electricity for a fraction of a second to the magnet, which quickly compresses the metal ring."

Re:Required electricity (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43368987)

Their stated cycle time is 1 minute. Article says they fire for a "fraction of a second" to compress the metal rings, so the peak power generation needed would be 2-3 orders of magnitude lower than the instantaenous power usage. Small scale fission reactor like the sort on a nuclear submarine would do the trick. Or a radioisotope thermal generator: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioisotope_thermoelectric_generator

Re:Required electricity (1)

OolimPhon (1120895) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369939)

You plan to send a submarine to Mars?

Re:Required electricity (2)

Lithdren (605362) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370281)

Why not? They're not that different from space ships in many ways.

Both must keep high pressure and low pressure areas seperate and protected from one another. Both must supply the crew with life support functions and the ability to communicate. Sure keeping the ocean out vs keeping the atmosphere in is different, but thats a structual question, functionally it's pretty similar.

By far the largest difference is a sub doesn't have a weight limit anywhere near as strict as a space ship, but that's more of a technology and material science issue. I could see someone who built submarines having some insight into how to build a space ship.

Re:Required electricity (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369001)

You put a big paddle wheel off the back and run generators with it.

Re:Required electricity (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369063)

I desperately hope that they use this solution-- it sounds both reasonable and exceedingly amusing to watch.

Re:Required electricity (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369829)

Also, once they get a few miles out, they can open up the slot machines.

Re:Required electricity (2)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369029)

You could probably run it off solar power, but I believe NASA has been looking to get approval to launch nuclear reactors into space again. NERVA-type engines still have inferior Isp compared to most of the fusion concepts out there - and whatever else it may be, using a fusion-based combustion chamber is going to be easier to make safe then a nuclear lightbulb type design. No need to shotgun blast a bunch of uranium into space/orbit/the atmosphere.

Re:Required electricity (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369189)

You could run it off anything if you limit the reaction rate accordingly. The problem is that the generated energy has to be stored in a roomful of capacitors, which won't fit on a rocket.

Re:Required electricity (1)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369223)

Depends how heavy that room is. And I suppose, how heavy the fuel is - you could justify launching a large, one-off ship that you then only have to send up fuel for. A 90 or 30 day trip to Mars would mean you'd be able to run regular missions shuttling between the two.

Re:Required electricity (2)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369397)

Bingo. For a space mission they would optimize on capacitor energy density. For lab work they would use the cheapest capacitor available that does the job without regard to space/weight considerations.

They article specifies a million Amps for a short duration (but fails to specify the duration or voltage needed). Here's a 2000A, 5 KG ultracapacitor. 1 million amps at 16V is achieveable in 2500 KG with a 1 second long burst. http://www.maxwell.com/products/ultracapacitors/docs/datasheet_16v_series_1009363.pdf

The "roomfull of capacitors" in a rocket doesn't sound too farfectched to me.

Re:Required electricity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369935)

For lab work they would use the cheapest capacitor available that does the job without regard to space/weight considerations.

And along those lines, many plasma experiments uses capacitors that have been passed down and reused for many experiments, frequently ending up older than many of the researchers working on the project. The last time I talked to a large capacitor manufacturer to check on the specs of some we had been using, I learned that not only were our caps over 40 years old, but that their current generic/economy line had almost 4 times the energy density per volume for the same kind of capacitor. You could probably get even more energy or power density by changing to a different kind of cap or getting one specifically designed with that parameter in mind.

Re:Required electricity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369901)

The rule against nuclear reactors in space is not of terrestrial origin. I don't think they'll get approval.

Re:Required electricity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369035)

If they have megamp class switches, they could be running a power type focus fusion system. Ive seen people doing the design specs for fusion powered aircraft and spacecraft using this principle.

Re:Required electricity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369051)

if it's ionised and pulsed power generation isn't a oroblem.

Re:Required electricity (1)

BaronAaron (658646) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369823)

They have a infographics [msnwllc.com] that gives a lot of nice details.

Mars Mission
Power Source: 180 kW solar array
Spacecraft Mass: 16 MT
Payload Mass: 61 MT
Propellent Mass: 57 MT

I don't see how. (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about a year and a half ago | (#43368941)

I don't see how putting five blades on the front and one more blade at the back and slightly above is going to improve things much. Going from two blades to five, increases the efficiency, I can see. Each stroke is like five strokes using a straight-edge. But at this point we are beyond the optimum in the law of marginal returns.

Wait, you are talking about Gillett, aren't you?

I thought I'd never see good things from Redmond. (1)

master_p (608214) | about a year and a half ago | (#43368971)

But apparently there can be good things from Redmond, like nuclear fusion-powered spaceships :-).

linux fipth (1)

Thud457 (234763) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369575)

I don't we can ensure that Redmond is destroyed if they launch from Bellingham [wikipedia.org] .

a small grain of sand... (1)

sabt-pestnu (967671) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369081)

As Silicon Dioxide (silica, a component of sand) is not noted for its fusing properties, I was guessing that the fusion would be from more typical materials: hydrogen, or perhaps helium.

And while liquid hydrogen technology is well developed, liquid helium is a bit more difficult, and metallic hydrogen even more so. A "grain" of (metallic) hydrogen seems a bit beyond expectation. A grain-sized amount of hydrogen, I'd believe. But a tank of granulated metallic hydrogen?

Re:a small grain of sand... (2)

dAzED1 (33635) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369205)

Is English not your first language? (honest question, sometimes nuances can be lost) "As small as a grain of sand" is just a phrase, used to denote something tiny. Sounds like a word or such just got left out of the phrase - I can assure you they're not trying to use actual sand for fusion. Redmond may have nutjobs living there, but doing that would be beyond even them.

Re:a small grain of sand... (1)

AndreyFilippov (550131) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369465)

Lithium deuteride ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium_hydride#Lithium_deuteride [wikipedia.org] ) can look like a grain of salt literally - it is just not as clear as NaCl.

Re:a small grain of sand... (1)

Lithdren (605362) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370371)

"Honey can you pass the Lithium deuteride?"

"You know you shouldn't eat that stuff so much hon, it's bad for your heart. Remember what the doctor said..."

"Yeah yeah, I know it gives me bad hydrogen gas, but it tastes so good!"

This type of fusion was worked on 35 years ago (5, Interesting)

InterGuru (50986) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369085)

The Trisops [wikipedia.org] machine at the University of Miami.

Trisops was an experimental machine for the study of magnetic confinement of plasmas with the ultimate goal of producing fusion power. The configuration was a variation of a compact toroid, a toroidal (doughnut-shaped) structure of plasma and magnetic fields with no coils penetrating the center. It lost funding in its original form in 1978.
The configuration was produced by combining two individual toroids produced by two conical pinch guns, located at either end of a length of Pyrex pipe with a constant magnetic guide field. The toroidal currents in the toroids were in opposite directions, so that they repelled each other. After coming to an equilibrium, they were adiabatically compressed by increasing the external field.

Disclosure: I am one of the authors of the cited paper in the article and the author of the above Wikipedia article

Re:This type of fusion was worked on 35 years ago (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369551)

I haven't had a chance to look at the Trisops description too closely, but it looks relatively similar to various other force free plasma experiments that have been on going for a while now too, short of maybe the external magnetic mirror field instead of flux conservers like a lot of other opposed gun configurations use.

What powers the fusion drive? (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369087)

What's not clear in the article is how they plan to power the drive... I seriously doubt solar will be sufficient (mostly due to the low insolation at Mars), which means nuclear. Which means *heavy*.

Re:What powers the fusion drive? (1)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369149)

The real question is could you do an Earth launch with this? Because the "heavy" equation changes a lot if we could actually use something like this to get into space in the first place.

Re:What powers the fusion drive? (2)

X0563511 (793323) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369157)

OK, think about those ridiculously high watt lasers. Recall how those are pulsed?

So is this, with a period of a minute or so. (large amount of energy in a tiny period of time, with a long 'idle' phase between). A traditional fission reactor or RTG could be used to charge the capacitor system for this, as well as the other ship systems.

Re:What powers the fusion drive? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369471)

...or even traditional solar collectors as long as we aren't talking about extra-solar travel. Thinking about inner solar missions, such as Mars, Venus, Saturn and even Jupiter. Think about all the asteroid mining opportunities, and using this method of propulsion to move some of these larger catches into Earth orbit...

Solar becomes even more viable the closer we move towards the sun.

MOO2 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369107)

Man... Fusion Drives, Plasma Drives, Ion Drives... now I really want to play Master of Orion 2.

Bob Lazar (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369113)

Might sound wacky but Bob Lazar somewhat discusses the traveling technology behind the crafts he worked on and it sounds just about 2 levels above this.

The downplay of current tech (2)

khallow (566160) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369173)

From the article:

âoeUsing existing rocket fuels, itâ(TM)s nearly impossible for humans to explore much beyond Earth,â said lead researcher John Slough, a UW research associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics. âoeWe are hoping to give us a much more powerful source of energy in space that could eventually lead to making interplanetary travel commonplace.â

[...]

NASA estimates a round-trip human expedition to Mars would take more than four years using current technology. The sheer amount of chemical rocket fuel needed in space would be extremely expensive â" the launch costs alone would be more than $12 billion.

That's not true at all. Chemical rockets work as well. And with the Falcon Heavy in the near future, there's no reason to pay $12 billion in launch costs for a Mars mission, even if you use chemical rockets.

Note also the phrase "take more than four years". That makes it sound like it takes two years to come and go from Mars. It really only takes six months with chemical rockets (plus some time for attaining Mars orbit, there's probably not going to be a direct landing on Mars due to the high risks of aerocapture) The reason it would take that long is because humans would be staying on the surface of Mars for at least two years. I doubt even instantaneous travel would cut off more than a year and a half.

The more reasonable 90 day passage to Mars would takes six months off the travel time plus reduce the time needed to get into Mars orbit. It would also enable trips at any time rather than just during the most optimal trajectories. This really is the key constraint of chemical rockets.

At this point, it is worth noting that there are other viable near future propulsion technologies as well. A key one is electric propulsion which can be solar or nuclear powered. It has a good mass fraction and travel times. Solar sails could be used to ferry radiation-immune loads over very slowly.

Re:The downplay of current tech (1)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369567)

It's all about how much mass you can move though. More mass means more people, resources, landers arriving at Mars per trip, or more fuel which you can then blow on shorter trip times.

We obviously can technically do it - but being cost-efficient and speedy are not solved challenges.

Re:The downplay of current tech (0)

SlippyToad (240532) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369705)

We had NERVA in the 1960's. Well, we still do, now. It would also take us to Mars.

The issue is not the technology. We have had the technology to do Mars and reasonably for over 30 years. It is national willpower and getting our priorities sorted out.

Maybe NASA can program Curiosity to look for gold, or oil, on Mars. Then we could use the military to invade. That seems to be a project Americans can easily get behind, over and over again, regardless of the total lack of results.

Sci-fi not so sci-fi? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369177)

First.. fusion reactors, next, manufacturing spaceships in space (cool designs, no need for rocket fuel, as big or as small as you want), third.. terraforming, fourth.. galactic travel

Anyone want to make a guess on how long it'll be? 50 years? 100 years? 150?

Fart power... (1)

Ashenkase (2008188) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369289)

"could" take us to Mars as well.

Unfortunately, harnessing fart power has proven much more elusive than fusion power.

Terrible ride quality (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369469)

So, this thing will go WHUMP! once a minute? It will be the most annoying and uncomfortable journey ever and forget of sleeping.

Either bullshit, or too important for NASA (1)

Animats (122034) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369497)

These guys are claiming to have controlled thermonuclear fusion above breakeven. That's huge. No one has ever done that. If it works, we have a new major power source. They write: "Now, the key will be combining each isolated test into a final experiment that produces fusion using this technology". That's a Nobel prize if they succeed.

This is too important to let NASA fuck up.

Re:Either bullshit, or too important for NASA (2)

Andy Dodd (701) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369847)

Actually, they're not. What they're creating is more akin to uncontrolled thermonuclear fusion.

Pretty much mini-bombs without the fission primary. Still pretty much bombs though. Usable for a rocket, not usable for electrical generation.

Also, even if it doesn't achieve breakeven, it may still be able to achieve very good Isp - e.g. lots of thrust per gram of propellant mass.

We could call it Project Pluto! (1)

RandomFactor (22447) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369573)

Seems like an appropriate name for a very fast nuclear powered vehicle where we don't have to worry about disposing of the exhaust left in its wake right?

Are they using 'fusion' as a noun? (1)

invid (163714) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369619)

Only a small amount of fusion is needed to power a rocket – a small grain of sand of this material has the same energy content as 1 gallon of rocket fuel.

Fusion is a process, not a material.

Re:Are they using 'fusion' as a noun? (1)

invid (163714) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369669)

And for you grammar nazis, I meant 'proper noun'.

Re:Are they using 'fusion' as a noun? (1)

invid (163714) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369751)

Alright, I've just been to Wikipedia and what I really meant was 'concrete noun.' I've really got to go there first before I post anything.

We already had this ability in the 1960's (4, Interesting)

SlippyToad (240532) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369659)

It was the NERVA rocket. it wasn't fusion, but it was a nuclear-powered rocket, and it would have easily made Mars our bitch.

It was canceled to, fucking get this, no seriously, wait for it. It was canceled TO SAVE THE BUDGET because the politicos at the time were afraid a successful Mars rocket would "drag" the US into this huge "space program" where we'd explore the solar system and stuff. And that would cost a lot of money.

Instead, we killed the NERVA rocket and saved our budget for Vietnam, which was a roaring success that paid incredible dividends . . . . oh, fuck.

Anyway, this is nice to hear, but I'm not going to hold my fucking breath. Our national priorities are far too ass-backwards for something forward-looking like a Mars mission. I suspect the first people to land on Mars will likely be an international team, and America will be riding along in the back begging for a look out the front window from time to time.

Sounds like they have a BS degree (1)

frovingslosh (582462) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369763)

As in Bullshit

Fusion rocket could take us to mars? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369795)

Yah, so could the fairy f*kin' god mother

Impossible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369831)

All technologies that can be discovered have been discovered. How many laws of the universe does this perpetum mobile violate?

Let me guess - in 20 years? (1)

xanthos (73578) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369883)

We are talking about fusion here so of course it perpetually will be available in 20 years.

Typo? (1)

2gravey (959785) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369955)

Shouldn't that read "Fusion Rocket Could Blow Us To Mars". No, I did not RTFA. Who has time for that.

Interesting thing about a fusion rocket... (2)

davebooth (101350) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370023)

So suppose this works as described and we have a functional method of initiating pulses of controlled fusion in a rocket engine that when vented out the nozzle produces usable thrust. Let's make that nozzle thinner and a bit more tubular than conical - a few hefty magnets around to to keep all that fusing stuff in a nice thin stream. While we're at it lets anchor the other end of the rocket to something HUGE that the thrust isn't going to have a prayer of shifting. Except here we call it recoil, because if you have made a fusion rocket you have also created the other staple of grand space opera... A plasma cannon :)

Acceleration? Braking? (1)

Lawrence_Bird (67278) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370157)

And how not to kill all involved? No mention of that in the article from my quick read.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?