Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory has licensed the technology for Direct Fusion Drive (DFD) a fusion-powered rocket engine that could take people on a mission to orbit Mars for 30 days with total trip duration of 310 days, something that is impossible with chemical or nuclear fission engines. The mission could be launched on a single NASA Space Launch System (SLS) booster and be ready when the SLS is available for human spaceflight. This would lead to human lander missions and Mars bases. Current experiments at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) are exploring basic physics principles of the proposed engine’s fuel-confinement scheme at small scale. The licenses also cover a potential new and novel magnetic fusion facility, with applications that include generating electricity for power stations and propelling space travel.
The magnetic device would create a cigar-shaped plasma—the superhot, electrically charged gas that fuels fusion reactions—inside a cylinder that is some 20 feet long and could produce up to 10 million watts of power. Propulsion would come from the stream of high-speed fusion exhaust that would blast into space through a magnetic nozzle. See PPPL Magnetic Nozzle Experiment below.
A test facility, based on a concept known as magnetic field reversed confinement, could be completed by 2022. “That’s when we’ll be in a position to build a flight version,” said Michael Paluszek, President of Princeton Satellite Systems, Inc. in Plainsboro NJ, which licensed the technology. Employing fusion to power rockets has long been a theoretical dream for space travel. PPPL and Princeton Satellite Systems are seeking funds for later versions from sources such as NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense.
Paluszek is already looking far beyond Mars. DFD would enable ambitious robotic solar system missions at far less cost than current technology allows. For example, DFD would enable Europa robotic orbiter and landing missions or could allow resupply and refurbishment of the James Webb Space Telescope. DFD would make asteroid mining a reality and even permit deflection of asteroids that are a danger to Earth. DFD reactors could power future space station, moon bases and advanced earth observation platforms. DFD could even send robotic probes to the nearby stars, possibly for mission to orbit Earth like planets. DFD would revolutionize space exploration.