This post is also available in: Español
Aerospace applications of Focus Fusion could kick off a new era in Solar System exploration and development. That’s why Focus Fusion research was initially funded through NASA JPL’s Advanced Propulsion Technology program, until that program ended in 2001.
The dream of using fusion for a greener planet is intertwined with the goal of opening up the space frontier. Members of LPPF’s own team came from a space background first before getting excited about the Earth and space applications of Focus Fusion.
Right now, an acre of solar panels supplies the International Space Station with just 75 to 90 kilowatts of power. The megawatts of fusion power that could be provided by space-rated Focus Fusion generators and their much higher power density would be a game changer. Proposals for human missions to Mars have called for 100 kilowatts of nuclear fission power on the Mars surface; megawatts of fusion power would not only make such a mission much more likely, but also enable an exponential leap in roving, greenhouses, and other activities to create a real foothold on the Red Planet. Radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTG’s) like those powering NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover have been the cornerstone of outer Solar System exploration, but the supply of plutonium required for this power source has dwindled, seriously endangering future deep space missions. Focus Fusion would mean that the Golden Era of deep space exploration was just beginning.
In space, Focus Fusion could provide not just power, but propulsion as well. Focus Fusion generates a beam of ions that accelerates rapidly away from the central anode, and by rapidly we mean at around a thousand kilometers per second! That works out to around one million seconds of specific impulse, a measure of rocket engine efficiency. So every Focus Fusion generator also happens to be an ultra-efficient rocket. Fortunately, those used for terrestrial power will stay on the ground, since this high efficiency works out to very low thrust.
If more thrust is desired, Focus Fusion’s power output could be modified or combined with power-hungry propulsion systems such as VASIMR. We’ll continue to investigate aerospace applications of Focus Fusion as development proceeds, with an eye open to potential partners. In the meantime…
Ad astra per aspera, semper exploro!
To the stars despite adversity, always explore!