New concept for rocket thruster takes advantage of the mechanism behind solar flares

PPPL physicist Fatima Abrahami in front of an artist’s conception fusion rocket. Credit: Elle Starkman (PPPL Office Communications) and ITER

A new type of rocket thruster, which can take mankind to Mars and beyond, has been proposed by a physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) of the US Department of Energy (DOE).

The device will apply magnetic fields to cause plasma particles, electrically charged gases, also known as the fourth state of matter, to shoot past a rocket and, due to the conservation of momentum, move the craft forward. Increases Current space-proven plasma thrusters use electric fields to disperse particles.

The new concept will accelerate particles using magnetic recombination, a process found throughout the universe, including the Sun’s surface, in which magnetic field lines change, abruptly separate, and then rejoin together, allowing A lot of energy is produced. Reconnection also occurs inside donut-shaped fusion devices known as tonamax.

“I have been cooking this concept for quite some time, the inventor of this concept and the author of the paper that expands the idea,” said PPPL Principal Research Physicist Fatima Abrahami. Journal of plasma physics. The forerunner of the lab’s current major fusion facility said, “Let me consider sitting on a deck in 2017 and thinking about the similarities between the exhaust of the car and the high-velocity exhaust particles created by PPPL’s ​​National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX) happened.” “During its operation, it produces magnetic bubbles called tokamak plasmoids that move at a speed of about 20 kilometers per second, which to me seemed like a lot of thrust.”

Fusion, the power that drives the sun and stars, combines light elements as plasma – the hot, charged state of matter composed of free electrons and atomic nuclei, which represents 99% of the visible universe – in enormous quantities To generate energy. Scientists are trying to replicate fusion on Earth for an almost inexhaustible supply of electricity to generate electricity.

Current plasma thrusters that use electric fields to disperse particles can only produce less specific impulses or motions. But computer simulations performed at the PPPL Computer and National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, a DOE office of the Science User Facility at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, showed that the new plasma thruster concept produces exhaust with a velocity of hundreds of kilometers per kilometer Can. Secondly, 10 times faster than other thrusters.

The high velocity at the start of a spacecraft’s journey can bring astronauts within reach of astronauts, Ibrahimi said. “Long-distance travel takes months or years because the specific impulse of chemical rocket engines is very low, so it takes a little time for the craft to gain momentum,” she said. “But if we make thrusters based on magnetic recombination, we can complete long-distance missions in a shorter period of time.”

There are three main differences between Ebrahimi’s thruster concept and other devices. The first is that changing the strength of the magnetic field can increase or decrease the amount of thrust. “By using more electromagnets and more magnetic fields, you can bend a knob to fix the impact velocity,” Ibrahimi said.

Second, the new thresher produces movement by rejecting both plasma particles and magnetic bubbles known as plasmoids. Plasmoids add power to propulsion and no other thruster concept incorporates them.

Third, unlike current thruster concepts, which rely on electric fields, Ibrahimi’s concept consists of plasma consisting of heavy or light atoms inside a magnetic field thruster. This flexibility enables scientists to quantify the thrust for a particular mission. “While other thrusters require heavy gas, made up of atoms like axons, in this concept you can use any type of gas,” Abrahami said. Scientists may prefer light gas in some cases because smaller atoms can move more quickly.

This concept broadens PPPL’s ​​portfolio of space propulsion research. Other projects include the Hall thruster experiment that was started in 1999 by PPPL physicists Yevgeny Rites and Nathaniel Fish to investigate the use of plasma particles to move spacecraft. Rites and students are investigating the use of small hall thrusters to provide more mobility to smaller satellites called cubets.

Abrahami stressed that his thruster concept stems directly from his research into fusion energy. “This work was inspired by previous fusion work and is the first time that plasmoid and recombination have been proposed for space propulsion,” Ibrahimi said. “The next stage is building a prototype!”

Blowing Bubble: Scientist Fusion confirms novel way to launch and drive current in plasmas

more information:
Fatima Ibrahimi, an alphanic, which includes a plasmoid thruster, Journal of plasma physics (2020). DOI: 10.1017 / S0022377820001476

Provided by Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Citation: New concept for rocket thruster exploits the mechanism behind solar flares (2021, 28 January). Retrieved 30 January 2021 from

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