Monday, January 31, 2011

Richard Dell on Space Fusion

The take home from this industry insider is that over unity fusion is likely to happen in the next couple of years.  I concur for the same reasons.  This weeks demonstration of twenty times unity will turn out to be a very useful form of fusion energy but specifically limited to producing heat.  The forms we are referring to will produce high energy plasma and an energy takeoff that is mostly electrical which is way more flexible.

His focus here is to tap such energy to drive an impulse motor space craft.  Recall that it is only necessary to sustain a one g thrust on a continuous basis to go to the nearby stars on a long trip.  However, the same system puts everything within the solar system a few weeks away.  Thus a fusion reactor and a one g thruster rigged up as a space craft completely opens up the solar system to us.

The image gives us some of the present design concepts.  I think that we need a prime space lifter to haul components out of the gravity well and that everything else must be assembled there.  A fusion based lifter would make it practical.

It is great to see folks getting excited about space travel again.

JANUARY 05, 2011

Here is the Richard Dell Jr interview. Mr. Dell believes that he and his team have developed a method for generating fusion power which is appropriate for providing the propulsion for exploring and colonizing space. He is confident that this approach could lead to spacecraft capable of flying to the moon and landing on it, and returning to earth using a single craft without jettisoning any stages or equipment. This technology could also be used to send humans to mars in only 2 months. His company, which is still largely in stealth mode, plans on generating short term revenue by selling more efficient satellite maneuvering thrusters to the satellite industry. Mr. Dell is confident that breakeven fusion power generation will be demonstrated within the next 3 years.

Highlight answers from Mr Dell in this the interview: 

This technology will change everything. By 2020, we could be actively implementing commercial settlement and/or tourist expeditions to Mars.

2011 or 2012 will be the year of small scale fusion

This system will have ten times the propulsive thrust of a George Miley IEC fusion propulsion proposal 

5 weeks to Mars with Helium 3 version of the fusion spaceship

In the 98 pager there is a description of being able to use the IEC in jet mode for propulsion. 

Way down the development path would be big fusion rockets like this

The ships that are designed 

IEC Fusion Ship I
500 MT
Isp =16,000
Thrust = 1028 Newtons

IEC Fusion Ship II
500 Mt
Isp = 35,000
Thrust = 4369 Newtons

But near term are progressively better propulsion units that start with satellite maneuvering thrusters that are ten times better than today’s Hall thrusters.

IEC power units can be added in series to develop higher power units such as required for deep space propulsion -- Magnetically Channeled Spherical Array, MCSA

High Power Operation
Eliminates Grid Structure
Increase Energy Confinement Time

They are tuning the IEC configuration for space propulsion

If they pulse it up to several thousand amps then it is OK if IEC only has scales by cubing the power instead of to the fifth power to get to 25 Megawatts.

A 7 page paper- Magnetically-Channeled SIEC Array (MCSA) Fusion Device for Interplanetary Missions

Question: Tell us about how you became involved with Dr. Miley

Answer: Several years back I was a Program Manager for a small, family owned company. While I worked there I became very interested in developing an Advanced Aerospace Research Center and began to make contact with a variety of physicists, technologists and foundations. The Arlington Institute and the Institute for Advanced Studies in Austin introduced me to Dr. Miley, about four years ago this March. I am truly grateful to the principals of both of these Institutes and I confess that I owe them a debt of gratitude more than I could possible ever repay.

So, we all shared at least one thing in common, that the problem with a young person out in the middle of a cornfield in Indiana is the same problem for the young person in the slums of LA - they have had their frontier taken away from them. Think about that. America has always had a frontier. We lost it for a couple decades, it was given back to us briefly from ’69 to ’72 and then it disappeared again. It’s time to give our young people back their frontier. They want it, they need it, it offers an economic engine of unparalleled capabilities for our young people and our Nation.

And so our little loosely organized group is focused on three areas, energy, the environment, and space. The thrust I’d prefer to discuss first is SPACE, the commercial development of manned and unmanned space technologies that enable and expedite exploration and settlement of our Moon and Mars and to do so in this century. Let that sink in. This century. OK? So we hope to begin next generation development of technologies that facilitate this objective using intellectual property that stands the test and muster of our intellectual property analysis as well as showing feasibility in data and testing at the same time. The combination of the two is the fulcrum.

98 page technical presentation from 2009 by George Miley 

There has been advances since the presentation but the solidity of the technical basis can be seen.

Question: In a minute I want to ask you more about your intellectual property, but first, tell me more about the device you call an LTV?

Answer: Lunar Transit Vehicle. Moon and back safely, carry six people plus two pilots/attendants or two pilots and a good bit of gear. Nothing new here, except the Miley IEC technology and hybrid of airbreathing MHD hybrid IEC is an application which we believe we can now amplify in terms of propulsive thrust by 10 times. We want to develop larger prototypes of fusion powered propulsion systems that would allow a single stage re-usable rocket/spacecraft to fly to and land on the moon, recover regolith samples, do valuable science, offer some entertaining tourist sights, and return to earth safely. We are confident that our aneutronic fusion space propulsion system could be a key factor in opening up space and creating a thriving space industry. I’m actually hoping with this interview to get some attention from the folks I heard some kid describe recently as the “Space Barons”. Space-Barons, if you want the next stage of propulsion, if you want seven or eight week flights to Mars, we are here and open for business.

Question: Where is the intellectual property coming from?

Answer: We have a commercialization agreement with Dr. George Miley and his Nuclear Plasma Laboratory organization known as NPL. We created a joint venture to explore a novel form of liquid sodium borohydride fuel cell, and I am developing a program for IEC Propulsion. What we all want to see is improvements in the Inertial Electrostatic Confinement (IEC) prototypes as we build larger and better. We have been conducting extensive R and D as well as doing commercialization assessments through our cooperative efforts with M-CAM. The past four years of diligence on a variety of space-related energy technologies may soon pay off.

Question: What’s M-CAM?

Answer: Well, I mentioned intellectual property diligence before, and having learned the M-CAM system I am still quite utterly blown away when I try to imagine what it was like to do diligence on technology *AND* intellectual property assessment before this kind of capability was available. M-CAM takes all the voodoo out, and the best antiseptic is applied, complete illumination. Without the M-CAM team and their software, the past four years of diligence and groundwork on a whole variety of space-related energy technologies could never have paid off.

Question: Back to the technology, how closely are you collaborating with Dr. Miley?

Answer: We have been working with him for the past four years, and we hold him in the highest regard. We have an extraordinary working relationship with him, and now that Bussard has passed away, Dr. Miley needs to be the pivotal figure for aneutronic fusion propulsion research. George is trying to create a fusion program that burns aneutronically, without magnets, and that burns a relatively inexpensive fuel. This is what we need to get to Mars and back in less than two months, and with some excellent inherent shielding of 99% of cosmic radiation. Shielding can deal with the 1% we can’t filter out, the worst of the stuff, the metallic ions.

Question: What are the main technologies that you are developing?

Answer: There are two primary technologies that George’s people are developing. They are modifying current IEC designs to increase plasma flow and pressure. They are also developing a novel form of airbreathing hypersonic spaceplane with an IEC. This is called airbreathing MHD-IEC hybrid. The other is an injection of IEC with a unique device to enable a vehicle to do a horizontal liftoff and then proceed to LEO. By using these two technologies, we can develop a highly efficient single-stage-to-orbit vehicle that can operate both within and outside of the atmosphere. It could lift off from earth, land on the moon and come back, without jettisoning any stages or equipment. This work is beyond the theoretical and is now solidly in the realm of applied practical science.

Question: What fuel source will this fusion drive consume?

Answer: Initially it will use Proton-Boron 11. The ideal fusion fuel is Helium 3, which is found in abundance on the moon. PB11 is nearly as good, and requires minimal shielding from radiation. So we will initially use PB11, and switch to HE3 when it becomes available, or when the Russians let us have more, hahaha.

Question: You’re joking about the Russians, right?

Answer: ‘Not at all’, or perhaps ‘yes and no’ would have been better. The ‘rumor on the street’ to explain why the Russians took He3 off the market is because they have an He3 reactor, big project…a project incidentally I would have liked to see take root in Southwest Virginia.

Question: OK, back to Space, what are the size and weight parameters of this proposed fusion powered spacecraft?

Answer: It is all very preliminary, so I can only provide ballpark estimates. George did some incredible simulation work to lay out the metrics, published them over 15 years ago, btw. So imagine a 500 metric ton spacecraft outfitted with a certain number of IEC fusion propulsion devices. With PB11 fuel, it could lift off from earth, and reach Mars in eight weeks or less. Using HE3 fuel, it could get to Mars in only five weeks. These reactors would be small enough to be placed on a spacecraft the size of a standard commercial jet.

Question: How much funding is your program receiving? When will the first prototype IEC drives be unveiled?

Answer: Both of those questions involve proprietary knowledge which I am not interested in doing in this interview. I can, say, however, that all of our funding is from private sources - we aren't currently looking for any Government funding. We have been informally working on this for the past four years, and we hope to be going public with more details in mid 2011.

Question: Are you collaborating with any other fusion groups, such as EMC2 or General Fusion?

Answer: Developing partnerships and closing on funding agreements is where we are. We are interested in creating entrepreneurial partnerships which play to the key values of our strategy. and bring more business to our company, while supporting efforts that move and advance our technology and commercialization capabilities. So we are open to collaborating with other companies and we wish the groups you referred to the very best of luck in 2011.

Question: How will your company generate revenue in the short term?

Answer: Current satellites maneuver based on Hall thrusters, which are ion thrusters capable of providing small amounts of thrust. Dr. Miley has developed a new propulsion technique that provides an ultra-maneuverable thruster that can provide an order of magnitude more thrust than an equivalent Hall thruster. We see strong short term Return On Investment (ROI) by selling this thruster to the satellite industry.

Question: When will we see breakeven fusion power generation?

Answer: We are confident that breakeven will be demonstrated within the next 24 to 36 months by someone. I predict that 2011 or at the very least, 2012 will be remembered as the "year of small scale fusion"- there are just way too many people building fusors out there and for those who would prefer to keep the djini in the bottle, sorry, but it’s bound to happen, and it sure looks to many of us that it could be sooner than anyone expects.

Question: How long will the research phase continue?

Answer: This project will be over 5-7 years, but will see economic returns way before the program is finished. We’re looking for the two year returns, not the three year returns. This will be primarily servicing the small satellite sector initially, unless we can wake one of the Space-Barons out of their “chemical-engine hypnosis”. But ultimately this will be geared for deep space capabilities with manned missions within the solar system.

Question: Will this system be safe? Are there any radiation issues with these systems?

Answer: To call these systems minimally radioactive is a disservice. Less radiation will be generated than exists in background space. These systems are completely safe. When I first became acquainted with these technologies almost five years ago I first asked what were the implications in terms of counter-terrorism and I was delighted to find that all IECs work basically the same, if containment is lost, it is like blowing out a candle. It would be more dangerous to blow up a refrigerator than one of our reactors.

Question: How will this technology change the world in the next decade?

Answer: This technology will change everything. By 2020, we could be actively implementing commercial settlement and/or tourist expeditions to Mars. There is no silver bullet for jump-starting the commercial space industry except fusion. The demand for Space is there, we’ve all seen it. We are confident that within a decade we will have developed all of the infrastructure and commercial breakthroughs necessary to enable the rapid manned occupation of the Moon and Mars.

Question: How can someone get in contact with you to discuss this program?

Answer: I would prefer to receive email on this topic to my home email address, so you can publish the following : omega dot arimathea at gmail dot com.

Ad astra!

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