World's Largest Nuclear Fusion Rocket Engine Begins Construction

The development of nuclear fusion propulsion has the potential to revolutionize space travel, both in terms of speed and fuel consumption. Travel durations to Mars might be cut in half or it could take just two years instead of eight to reach Saturn and its moons using the same sorts of reactions that fuel the Sun.

Although it is immensely exciting, not everyone is certain that it will work because the technology requires extremely high pressures and temperatures to operate.

The biggest fusion rocket engine has ever been created is now being constructed by Pulsar Fusion in Bletchley, United Kingdom, to demonstrate the practicality of the technology.

The 8 meters (26 feet) long chamber is expected to begin shooting in 2027.

It is difficult, as one might anticipate, to replicate the Sun inside of a rocket. An ultra-hot plasma is confined inside an electromagnetic field at the heart of nuclear fusion propulsion, and scientists are still figuring out how to achieve this in a steady and secure manner.

According to James Lambert, CFO of Pulsar Fusion, "the challenge is learning how to hold and confine the super-hot plasma within an electromagnetic field." The behavior of the plasma is similar to that of a weather system in that it is very challenging to anticipate using traditional methods.

This box of extreme weather could become somewhat easier to map with the use of machine learning. In order to better forecast how the plasma is expected to behave and how it may be more precisely controlled, Pulsar Fusion has teamed up with Princeton Satellite Systems in the US.

The chamber will reach temperatures of several hundred million degrees, making it hotter than the Sun, if scientists are successful in getting everything working as designed. The extra energy discharged may be able to propel rockets at speeds of up to 500,000 miles (804,672 kilometers) per hour.

In the specific form of engine we're discussing here, called a Direct Fusion Drive (DFD), charged particles directly generate thrust rather than turning them into energy. It is more effective than other choices and requires less fuel since it is fueled by atomic isotopes.

"You need to consider whether humanity is capable of fusion." Richard Dinan, CEO of Pulsar Fusion, told TechCrunch. "If we can't, then none of this matters,"

"Fusion propulsion is definitely inevitable if we can, and we can. The human development of space is compelling.

Nuclear fusion promises to cut the time it takes to travel between planets in half and to supply nearly limitless, clean energy for life on Earth.

Scientists anticipate that it will initially be tested in space, where the absence of an atmosphere and the extremely low temperatures favor reactions.