Since we commenced space exploration in the 20th century, humans have always wondered how we could travel beyond the solar system into interstellar space. While space agencies are currently focusing on missions to the moon, Mars, and other celestial bodies within the solar system using chemical propulsion engines, a scientist is already exploring the idea of reaching interstellar space using magnetic fusion plasma engines. How did the researcher come up with this futuristic idea? Continue reading to find out.
How A Scientist Realized That Humans Could Reach Interstellar Space Using Magnetic Fusion Plasma Engines
Professor Florian Neukart, an Assistant Professor with the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science (LIACS) at Leiden University and a Board Member of the Swiss quantum technology developer Terra Quantum AG recently published a paper on the pre-print server arXiv proposing how future missions to deep space could depend on a futuristic propulsion concept called the Magnetic Fusion Plasma Drive (MFPD).
The published paper reveals that this device merges different propulsion methods to create a system that provides high energy density and fuel efficiency which is better than conventional propulsion methods. The pre-print of Neukart’s paper is currently being reviewed for publication.
The professor revealed that technologies that can replace conventional chemical propulsion (CCP) are necessary to meet our present and future goals of exploring space. Neukart also revealed that these technologies must provide greater energy efficiency, thrust, and capability to sustain long-duration missions.
Such technologies will be helpful to astronauts traveling beyond the Earth-moon system as they will reduce severe health impacts on the crew and also offer other safety protection to them.
How Neukart’s Concept of Magnetic Fusion Plasma Drive (MFPD) Works
NASA and other space agencies are constantly studying other safer propulsion methods to travel out of the solar system. However, the introduction of Neukart’s concept is about to change the way we explore space. The professor’s proposal merges fusion propulsion, ionic propulsion, and other propulsion concepts to arrive at the Magnetic Fusion Plasma Drive (MFPD). Neukart explained his concept in detail to Universe Today through email communication.
“The MFPD is a propulsion system for space exploration, utilizing controlled nuclear fusion reactions as a primary energy source for both thrust and potential electric power generation. The system is predicated on harnessing the immense energy output from fusion reactions, typically involving isotopes of hydrogen or helium, to produce a high-velocity exhaust of particles, thereby generating thrust according to Newton’s third law,” Neukart wrote.
“The plasma from the fusion reactions is confined and manipulated using magnetic fields, ensuring controlled energy release and directionality. Simultaneously, the MFPD concept envisages the possibility of converting part of the fusion energy into electrical power to sustain onboard systems and possibly the reaction control system of the spacecraft,” he added.
How Neukart Developed This Concept
Nuekart started by developing this concept using deuterium-tritium (D-T) fusion reactions as it stands as one of the most studied and understood reactions. It also provides a clear basis for learning more about the core principles and mechanics of MFPD. Neukart proceeded to add D-T reactions which have relatively low ignition temperatures and a greater cross-section than other propulsion concepts.
Hence, the addition of D-T reactions is a good starting point for Neukart’s concept as they offer a useful benchmark for calculating and comparing the overall performance of this concept. The major goal of MFPD is to tap into the sophistications of aneutronic fusion (p-B11), where a small amount of the energy produced by the reactions is moved around by neutrons.
Aneutronic reactions then proceed to release energy which will come out as charged particles, mostly protons or alpha particles. This significantly lowers the level of neutron radiation generated.
The benefits of this system include providing both thrust and power from one energy source, merging high specific impulse and immense energy density, and a lot more including lower mass fractions, high specific impulse, energy-dense fuel, adaptability, radiation shielding, dual utility, reduced travel time, radiation shielding, minimized risk of nuclear contamination, and independence from solar proximity.
What Could Be the Implications of This System?
While emphasizing the implication this concept could have on deep space exploration, Nuekart suggests that his system could have a series of implications including countering the risks of long-duration space missions, ability to traverse massive cosmic distances in reduced timeframes, thereby expanding mission profiles, enhancing human space exploration capabilities, and upgrading spacecraft designs by offering propulsion and electrical power.
Neukart also suggests that his invention will revolutionize the way agencies produce energy and other material science here on Earth. However, the development of this futuristic concept will require collaboration from international agencies which will require active participation of experts and finding resources from several fields.
“While the journey to realize the MFPD concept will undeniably be layered with challenges and scientific hurdles, the potential payoff is monumental. Achieving reliable, effective, and efficient fusion propulsion could redefine the boundaries of achievable goals, propelling humanity into a new era of exploration, discovery, and understanding of the cosmos,” Neukart wrote.
“The hope is that the research seeds curiosity, innovation, and determination among scientists, engineers, and explorers across the globe, charting the course toward our future among the stars,” he concludes.
Professor Florian Neukart, an Assistant Professor with the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science (LIACS) at Leiden University and a Board Member of the Swiss quantum technology developer Terra Quantum AG is already exploring the idea of reaching interstellar space using magnetic fusion plasma engines. The researcher proposed numerous advantages the world would get from bringing his technology into reality. Humans could possibly attain interstellar travel using this futuristic theoretical concept. What do you think about this technology?