Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists announced they have made a significant step towards achieving ignition, a process needed to make fusion energy viable. For the first time ever, researchers say they have gotten more energy out of fusion fuel than what they poured into it to start a reaction.
University of Washington researchers are working on a new design for a fusion-driven rocket that they say could cut a round-trip voyage to Mars to 90 days or less.
“The future of manned space exploration and development of space depends critically on the creation of a dramatically more proficient propulsion system for in-space transportation,” wrote the project team in a paper on their propulsion design. “Nuclear fuel contains energy densities that dwarf the energy of any chemical combustion. The fusion-driven rocket … offers a realistic approach to fusion propulsion systems.”
If their design works as they believe it will, their engine could propel a Mars-bound spacecraft at more than 12 miles per second. If they were able to build a working craft by 2020, the red planet would be around 36 days travelling time from Earth at that speed. According to astronomy professor Courtney Seligman, in October of that year the two planets will be a relatively close 38.6 million miles apart.
One of the world’s fastest supercomputers has performed a record number of simulations to help physicists in their quest to produce fusion energy.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers set all of their Sequoia supercomputer’s 1,572,864 processors (known as cores) on a single problem: modeling the motion of charged particles after a powerful laser beam strikes a dense cloud of ionized gas, called plasma. Using all of its cores, Sequoia can process 16.3 quadrillion calculations per second.
The machine is letting the team follow the simultaneous evolution of tens of billions to trillions of individual particles and the electromagnetic interactions between them. Such simulations are used extensively in plasma physics.