While the world is watching Facebook in the garden grows a garden of stones, Lockheed Martin quietly gives the patent associated with the design of the potentially revolutionary compact fusion reactor, he’s CFR. If the project will be developed on schedule, the company will be able to present a prototype of the system with the size of the shipping container, but able to nourish the aircraft carrier class “Nimitz” or 80 000 homes in the next year. All anything, but as you know, thermonuclear fusion “will be in 20 years”. Thought so about 60 years ago.
A patent for part of the system of confinement, or corps, dated 15 Feb 2018. Defense contractor, whose headquarters is located in Maryland, filed a preliminary request on 3 April 2013 and the official almost a year later. As the project unfolded since then?
In 2014, the company has surprised the world, saying that working on such a device and is responsible for advanced projects Skunk Works in their office in Palmdale, CA. At that time Thomas McGuire, head of Compac Fusion Project, said the goal is to create a working reactor in five years and to bring the project into mass production ten.
“I studied it in graduate school at mit, where, in a study of NASA, I was going through, how fast can we get to Mars,” says McGuire in 2014 in an interview with Aviation Week. “I began to see all of the published ideas. Basically I took them and combined, transforming into something new, removing the problems of some and replacing them with the advantages of others.”
Scientists developed the concept of synthesis reactors with the 1920-ies, but unfortunately, most of functional instances were inefficient and large — in fact, the size of a small building — well, expensive, of course. For example, the ITER being built in France by the international consortium, will be ready in 2021. He had spent a total of $ 50 billion, and it weighs about 23 000 tons.
All of these devices, of course, can be called experimental, they have little answer for practical purposes, and the problem is to limit (confining) reaction, which takes place in the heart of the sun and other stars. In contrast to the reaction of nuclear fission, when atoms collide among themselves, releasing energy, synthesis reaction includes heating of the gaseous fuel to the point where its atomic structure is broken under the pressure and some particles merge into a heavier nucleus.
This process involves the release of a massive amount of energy a million times more than normal chemical reactions, like burning fossil fuels, says McGuire. But you need to try to keep the gas in a state of extremely high energy plasma for a certain time at a temperature of millions of degrees.
This generally limits the capacity of the reactors, even bigger because of fears that they can beautifully break. In an interview with the 2014 McGuire used the tokamak, a magnetic confinement device developed by Soviet scientists in the 1950-ies, as an example. He explained this by the fact that the tokamak magnetic low limit of pressure at which it can operate safely.
McGuire tried to explain, at least in theory, as the CFR needs to circumvent these problems:
“The problem with tokamaks is that they can hold only a certain amount of plasma, we call that the beta limit,” McGuire says. Measured as the ratio of the plasma pressure to the magnetic pressure, the beta limit of the conventional tokamak is very low, or about “5% or so in the bounding pressure,” he says. Comparing Thor with a motorcycle tire, McGuire adds: “If you pump up too much, limiting a tyre burst and, therefore, for safe operation we can’t get too close.”
CFR should avoid these problems by taking a fundamentally different approach to the confinement of the plasma. Instead of limiting plasma in a tubular rings, a series of superconducting coils will create a magnetic field with a new geometry in which the plasma is held in a wide range of the entire reaction chamber. Superconducting magnets in the coils will generate a magnetic field around the outer border of the camera. “Instead of expanding motorcycle tire in the air, we will have a pipe that expands in a solid wall,” says McGuire. The system will be governed by a self-tuning mechanism of the response, so the next will be to expand the plasma, the stronger the magnetic field will push it back, hold. CFR is expected to have a beta limit per unit.
If the system will work, it is difficult even to imagine how it will change the future of not only fighting, but also the very nature of human existence. Working on six kilograms of fuel — a mixture of hydrogen isotopes tritium and deuterium reactor Lockheed Martin will be able to give energy for a whole year without stopping. During this period, the device can produce a constant 100 Megawatts of energy.
According to the company, the reactor could be powerful enough to worked as an aircraft carrier, the plane size of the C-5 Galaxy, to provide electricity to a city with a population of from 50 to 100,000 people and maybe even send us on a trip to Mars. In each case, a compact reactor will replace the large conventional fuel system or a fission reactor, except weight and mass. This, in turn, can create trade space for additional systems or bandwidth, in terms of staff or material resources or to provide a more economical overall shape or design.
In the case of aeronautical applications, depending on the exact size of the reactor, the system can give aircraft unlimited range of throughout the life cycle; in this limit the requirement of the crew will need food, water and other life support systems. Drones with high altitude can stay on the fly for months, or even years, gradually replacing the satellites and other communications infrastructure for military and civilian applications.
It could also lead to permanent observation of wide areas in which it is commonly difficult to control the situation from the air, for example, in the vast expanse of the Pacific ocean, with virtually unlimited. It would be useful to monitor the movements of the opponent or change in animal populations or water temperature.
The same benefits can to land transport, ships or even space vehicles: no one would refuse almost unlimited energy in a compact form factor that allows you to conquer the tyranny of distance. Supply chain would not be needed as a phenomenon. But the biggest advantage will result in a nice bonus for the environment.
The difference between fission reaction and fusion reaction in the reactor that the latter does not produce hazardous emissions to the ozone layer, and even if the system fails, it will not lead to a major environmental disaster related to the release of radiation. Deuterium and tritium are quite successfully used in commercial environments and are relatively harmless in low doses. A small amount of fuel required to start the synthesis reactor, by itself, reduces the risk of leakage and contamination of a large area.
And since the synthesis reactor does not require purified material for the division, it’s much harder to use as a launch pad for nuclear weapons. Such reactors can be put up in hospitals, schools, desalination plants, without any risk to local residents.
Fuel will also be many, and it will be easily accessible as sea water provides an almost unlimited source of deuterium, while tritium is also quite easy to obtain. The waste is far less dangerous than those that remain after the operation of nuclear reactors, and the materials remain radioactive for hundreds, not thousands of years.
Such a system would produce heat and to direct this energy to move turbines to generate electricity, so Lockheed Martin could offer replacement of existing fuel sources, using coal, oil and nuclear fission. In an emergency, for example, as a result of large natural disasters, compact reactors, placed on trucks, could quickly restore power to entire cities.
Of course, we have not yet seen the fusion reactor Lockheed Martin and don’t know whether it will be real at all. Many companies and organizations have tried to create a working fusion reactor for almost a hundred years, but not managed it yet to anyone.
On the one hand, the fact of filing of the patent application by a Corporation does not mean that they are actively developing the technology described in the document. In addition, since the dissemination of information in 2014, the Skunk Works told very little about the project beyond the community of plasma physics. The U.S. government also reserves the right to classify patents if they are public, that may pose a threat to national security. And the fact that this patent is not, also questioned the maturity of the project.
Remembering the five-year development time, which McGuire said in 2014, should we expect another major announcement from Lockheed Martin in the near future?