(Photo by Elle Starkman, PPPL Office of Communications, and ITER)
PPPL physicist Fatima Ebrahimi in front of an artist’s conception of a fusion rocket
- A new type of rocket thruster could take humankind to Mars and beyond
- The device would apply magnetic fields to cause particles of plasma,, electrically charged gas also known as the fourth state of matter, to shoot out the back of a rocket and, because of the conservation of momentum, propel the craft forward.
- The new concept would accelerate the particles using magnetic reconnection, a process found throughout the universe, including the surface of the sun, in which magnetic field lines converge, suddenly separate, and then join together again, producing lots of energy. Reconnection also occurs inside doughnut-shaped fusion devices known as tokamaks.
- The new plasma thruster concept can generate exhaust with velocities of hundreds of kilometers per second, 10 times faster than those of other thrusters.
- That faster velocity at the beginning of a spacecraft’s journey could bring the outer planets within reach of astronauts.
- “By using more electromagnets and more magnetic fields, you can in effect turn a knob to fine-tune the velocity,” Ebrahimi said.
- “This work was inspired by past fusion work and this is the first time that plasmoids and reconnection have been proposed for space propulsion,” Ebrahimi said.
More from: Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory on Innovation2
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