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News Link • Space Travel and Exploration

NASA Scientist Proposes Alpha Fusion Thruster to Drive Future Deep-Space Probes

• Rebecca Boyle via

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. 

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