Fusion power has long been the dream of those seeking endless energy supplies, although efforts to smash atomic particles together and harness their energy have been dubious at best. Now a NASA scientist is proposing a new form of fusion-based energy to power a deep space probe.
Instead of using fusion’s excess energy to drive a generator, it would use the kinetic energy of radioactive decay particles to provide thrust.
John J. Chapman, a physicist and electronics engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center, proposes a boron-based fusion motor instead of a system based on deuterium and tritium. He explained the system at an IEEE Symposium on Fusion Engineering in Chicago this week.It uses a commercially available laser beam aimed at a two-layer, 8-inch diameter target, IEEE Spectrum explains. As the laser beam hits the first layer, am ultra-thin piece of metal foil, it releases a hail of electrons, leaving the foil with a net positive charge. The protons’ self-repulsive force causes the foil to explode apart, propelling protons toward the second layer, a thin film of boron-11. Here the protons fuse with boron nuclei to form carbon nuclei, which immediately decay into daughter products, which themselves decay into alpha particles.