The Millennial Project 2.0

Plasma and Fusion Propulsion

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Though it may always have some role, particularly in surface transport applications, the days of the chemical rocket as a primary means of propulsion in space are numbered. By the time of Asgard a variety of alternative propulsion technologies may likely be in use, based primarily on a quest to increase ISP or ‘specific impulse’ while simplifying the handling and management of propellants. Today, the most likely of general purpose alternative rocket propulsion technologies is plasma propulsion, which evolved from the ion propulsion used for satellite attitude control and which will set down a path of evolution ultimately culminating in the anti-matter propulsion envisioned by Marshal Savage.

Plasma propulsion is based on ionizing a propellant and accelerating and directing the resulting plume of charged molecules as thrust with electrostatic and magnetic fields –an advance over ion propulsion that performs the same operation primarily with electrostatic repulsion. Specific impulse of such rockets is extremely great, the chief advantage of plasma propulsion over earlier ionic propulsion being that much larger volumes of propellant can be accelerated –so much so that plasma ‘jets’ have been considered as the basis of propulsion for some forms of very high altitude terrestrial aircraft. The very high ISP of such rockets affords high potential velocities for a spacecraft but even with their increased thrust volume they are still far lower in this volume than chemical rockets and thus long acceleration periods of continuous thrust are required to overcome the inertia of a large vessel. Also, a continuous supply of high voltage electric power is needed to operate such rockets. But despite these limitations, plasma propulsion is generally considered superior to chemical rockets for trans-orbital travel because their high ISP can radically reduce net transit times, engines are simpler, more solid-state, lower mass, more reliable, finely tunable, and able to be switched on and off frequently, and because a wide variety of non-explosive propellants can be used. Early in the Asgard phase both chemical rockets and plasma rockets will likely co-exist, the former preferred for shorter distant transit and the latter for interplanetary and asteroid missions.

Plasma propulsion use will likely steadily increase across the Asgard phase but from mid to late in the Asgard phase it may be supplanted by another derivative of similar engine technology; fusion propulsion. Similar in basic configuration, fusion rockets will be based on the generation of an ionized plasma magnetically confined to the point of nuclear fusion with the resulting explosively-powerful fusion plasma and charged particle ejecta directed as thrust. This will afford both the extremely high ISPs of plasma rockets with great thrust volume while also allowing the engines to generate their own power during operation. Though much more limited in potential range of propellants –the technology likely favoring hydrogen isotopes just like speculated fusion reactors– fusion propulsion would potentially become a workhorse form of propulsion for most space vehicles. Other forms of nuclear propulsion are likely to explored over the Asgard phase but will tend to be hampered by the problems of producing, handling, and disposing of highly radioactive materials as well as large radiation shielding masses. Though early fusion propulsion engines would likely be massive owing to the need for large super-conducting magnetic field arrays, radiation shielding would be much reduced over other forms of nuclear propulsion owing to the greater control over the fusion reaction. Over time this control may become so refined that fusion engines may be capable of ‘fusion lasing’ –effectively acting in the manner of an optical laser that precisely outputs energy in very specific forms along very specific vectors. (a long pursued goal of nuclear research today once attributed to the concept of orbital X-ray laser weapons) Such capability would radically reduce the mass of fusion engines while greatly increasing their safety and reducing issues of ‘charged particle pollution’ limiting the proximity of vehicles to habitats during engine use.

Some time from late in the Asgard period into the Solaria phase fusion propulsion may see its evolution into its ultimate form; anti-matter reaction propulsion. Again based on very similar configurations and components and, again, based on magnetic confinement as a basis of control, anti-matter propulsion would employ stored anti-matter as fuel reacting with an inert propellant. Function would be essentially the same as any fusion engine but with power on a tremendous new scale that would vastly shorten travel times across the solar system and compel an evolution of Asgard’s traditional Beamship architectures to much more streamlined forms –not for sake of aerodynamics but rather to reduce the erosive damage caused by interaction with the charged particle solar wind at such high new velocities. Such propulsion could reduce the travel times for any points within the solar system to mere days. However, the production of anti-matter fuel in volume may require the establishment of new facilities and technologies that can extract anti-matter from solar ejecta in close solar proximity, much as envisioned by Marshal Savage in the original TMP. This may also coincide with the development of practical nuclear isomers –materials that store vast amounts of energy in the quantum states of particles in the atomic nucleus and release it in a controlled manner– which might also rely on similar facilities for their production.

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d v e ASGARD
Phases Foundation Aquarius Bifrost Asgard Avalon Elysium Solaria Galactia
Cultural Evolution Transhumanism  •  Economics, Justice, and Government  •  Key Disruptive Technologies
Life In Asgard
Modular Unmanned Orbital Laboratory - MUOL  •  Modular Unmanned Orbital Factory - MUOF  •  Manned Orbital Factory - MOF  •  Valhalla  •  EvoHab  •  Asgard SE Upstation  •  Asteroid Settlements  •  Inter-Orbital Way-Station  •  Solar Power Satellite - SPS  •  Beamship Concept  •  Inter-Orbital Transport  •  Cyclic Transport  •  Special Mission Vessels  •  Orbital Mining Systems  •  The Ballistic Railway Network  •  Deep Space Telemetry and Telecom Network - DST&TN
Asgard Supporting Technologies
Urban Tree Housing Concepts  •  Asgard Digitial Infrastructure  •  Inchworms  •  Remotes  •  Carrier Pallets  •  WristRocket Personal Mobility Unit  •  RocShaw Personal Mobility Units  •  Pallet Truck  •  ZipLine Tether Transport System  •  MagTrack Transport System  •  BioSuit  •  SkyGarden and SkyFarm Systems  •  Meat Culturing  •  Microgravity Food Processors  •  Pools and Baths in Orbit  •  Solar Sails  •  Plasma and Fusion Propulsion

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