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Fusion Based Nuclear Propulsion Seminar Report

Fusion based nuclear propulsion has the potential to enable fast interplanetary transportation. The two big challenges we face during interplanetary explorations are the great distances between the planets of our solar system and the harmful radiation environment of interplanetary space. So high specific impulse (Isp) propulsion in vehicles with high payload mass fractions must be developed to provide practical and safe vehicles for human space flight missions.

There are many different methods of spacecraft propulsion. Most spacecraft today are propelled by heating the reaction mass and allowing it to flow out of the back of the vehicle. For propulsion the required product is the velocity of the exhaust products of the reaction. When launching a spacecraft from the earth ,a propulsion method must overcome the earth’s gravitational pull in addition to providing acceleration. Interplanetary vehicles mostly use chemical rockets and this takes atleast six months to reach mars and this fusion propulsion system makes this possible for humans to reach mars within three months.

We focus mainly on Z-pinch based nuclear fusion propulsion which is a Magneto-Inertial Fusion (MIF) approach that may potentially lead to a small, low cost fusion reactor/engine assembly. The magnetic field resulting from the large current compresses the plasma to fusion conditions and this process can be pulsed over short time scales(10-6s).This type of plasma formation is widely used in the field of Nuclear Weapon Effects testing in the defense industry, as well as in the Fusion energy research. The analysis of the Z-pinch MIF propulsion system concludes that a 40 fold increase of Isp over chemical propulsion is predicted. An Isp of 19,436 s and a thrust of 3812 N s/pulse along with nearly doubling the predicted payload mass fraction, warrants further development of enabling technologies.

The building of a fusion-powered spacecraft would be the equivalent of developing a car on Earth that can travel twice as fast as any car, with a fuel efficiency of 7,000 miles per gallon. In rocket science, fuel efficiency of a rocket engine is measured by its specific impulse. Specific impulse refers to the units of thrust per the units of propellant consumed over time
A fusion drive could have a specific impulse about 300 times greater than conventional chemical rocket engines. A typical chemical rocket engine has a specific impulse of about 450 seconds, which means that the engine can produce 1 pound (.4539kg) of thrust from 1 pound of fuel for 450 seconds. A fusion rocket could have an estimated specific impulse of130,000 seconds. Additionally, fusion-powered rockets would use hydrogen as a propellant, which means it would be able to replenish itself as it travels through space. Hydrogen is present in the atmosphere of many planets, so all the spacecraft would have to do is dip down into the atmosphere and suck in some hydrogen to refuel itself. Fusion-powered rockets could provide longer thrust than chemical rockets, which burn their fuel quickly. It’s believed that fusion propulsion will allow rapid travel to anywhere in our solar system, and could allow round trips from Earth to Jupiter in just two years. In our discussion we concentrate mainly on the conceptual Z-pinch MIF nuclear engine of the proposed vehicle .An outline of the mission and vehicle configuration is offered to provide a framework for the propulsion design

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