Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ways to save the world... and more Rockets

Saving the World
Any long time blog reader reader has already heard my rant about the only way to really spread an American standard of living to the entire population of the world requires that we find new resources, not just recycle our soda cans. I believe that off planet resources will be a significant part of the solution for things like rare earth metals, platinum group metals, expanding humans into the solar system etc.... The other half of this is a cost effective green energy source. I'm still very skeptical about the ability of space based solar power to solve the energy issues here on earth. I think its much more likely that small modular fisssion reactors and hopefully fusion will solve the energy problems.

A few weeks ago I posted about LPP. since that time I have visited their facility. I went through the lab and got to watch several "fusion" shots. They have multiple different ways to detect neutrons and are clearly generating neutrons via D-D fusion. They have obviously spent a fair bit in building their lab, but none of it was wasted in any way. They have good instrumentation and a well setup shielded room, but the rest of the lab space itself could be generously described as spartan. Its obvious that the people working on the project are passionate about what they are doing and believe they have a pretty good shot at making it all work. As a result I've decided to personally invest some $ in their business. If you are an accredited investor give them a call.

Back to Rockets....
I've started in earnest to work on a plan for winning the Nano Sat contest. There was a big meeting to kickoff the contest last week and in my mind the only significant questions left about the contest will be
  • How do they resolve the no government funding rule,
  • Who will be the allied organization.
The overall goal of centennial challenges is to encourage innovation from individuals and companies that are not part of the traditional aerospace environment. The goal of the specific Nanosat prize is to try and kick start a low cost nanosat launcher. At some level the two goals are in conflict. There are many small SBIR sized companies that have received government funding to work in this area, and so excluding government contractors from the contest will limit the pool of people that might succeed, at the same time including people receiving significant government funding really violates the spirit of the centennial challenges.
Personally I would like to see the same no government $ rules that were part of every previous centennial challenge.

On the technical and regulatory side of the house many many questions remain.

This weekend I hope to finally fire my stainless printed motor.
Building more real hardware really requires that I get more details of my notional launcher nailed down.


QuantumG said...

Wow, awesome. I'm a bit of a fan of LPP myself. I wonder about whether the capacitor bank could be removed by feeding the electrical output of one FuFo device into the shot of another and the output of the second FuFo device back into the first. In that fashion the capacitor bank becomes necessary only for the "starter".

The problem, of course, would be getting the timing down but the resulting weight savings would be crucial for using a device like this for propulsion - which is usually described as running liquid hydrogen through just a single device. Replacing the LH2 with something more operational (perhaps even just water) would also be a great improvement.

C. Scott Ananian said...

Interesting idea, Trent, but definitely not Gen-1 stuff -- they should concentrate on scaling up the physics first. If the physics won't work at scale, the capacitors don't matter.

That said, I doubt you could daisy-chain the devices together. The fundamental problem is inductance. You need very small inductance (==fast rise times) for the trigger, and I don't know if that's compatible with the output of the MHD generator. There seems to be some research on "pulsed MHD generators" -- see google -- but these seem to indicate that MHD generators are very sensitive to changes in load, which is probably not good news for daisy-chaining. Decoupling input and output via an energy storage mechanism looks like a good idea.

Capacitor banks are bulky, but I don't think they are necessarily heavy. Thinking about using LPP in flight vehicles seems to me to be pre-hatched chicken-counting though.

Robert Horning said...

For myself, I think the guys to beat is the EMC2 Corporation with the Polywell reactor in terms of who is going to get fusion to work first, although Focus Fusion may also work. It also seem as though the Tokamak reactor is a dead end.

Robert Bussard also did some interesting work with the Polywell designs in terms of making it into a high powered interplanetary rocket engine. If you can dig up some of those proposals, it is certainly worth reading. Then again, he also came up with the first practical (not violating basic physics) concept for interstellar propulsion based upon real systems. It would be awesome if instead of a cetrafugal artifical gravity system for a trip to Mars is replaced simply by a ship under near constant lunar-levels of acceleration or greater that is accomplished in only a few weeks instead of taking the better part of a year.

I've suggested in the past that the potential for fusion energy to come on line is likely going to be the nail in the coffin for space solar power... except perhaps for space-based applications. When you are in space doing space manufacturing requiring a whole bunch of concentrated energy, you don't have many options available and solar power starts to look very good. If a company invested several billion dollars into a dozen power sats only to see their investment become worthless because fusion sources came on line about the same time they started to beam power down to the Earth, I'm sure there would be some very ticked off people. Merely the threat of something like that happening might be enough to keep space solar power from happening on a large scale.

Some interesting things are happening with fusion research, and it seems like those who are playing around with different concepts that eventually something is going to stick. I keep hoping that it is sooner than later.

QuantumG said...

Agreed Scott, it's certainly a premature optimization. I wish LPP the best of luck in their scientific demonstration of net energy and hope they get the funding for follow on development after that success.

Paul Breed said...

EMC^2's new facility is 1/2 mile from my office. Two weeks ago you could see their new machine in the back of their lab through the front window and inner window.

The LPP machine is behindf 3 feet of concrete and the door to the chamber is shielded with boron impregnated polyethylene sheets. Tell me who is making more neutrons?

heroineworshipper said...

You do have a way of getting caught up in odd diversions.

Kiwipedia says Dense Plasma Focus is mainly useful in generating X-Rays for electronics manufacturing but is not useful for generating power. Maybe you'll get iPhones to cost under $100.

Not sure how winning the nanosat contest translates to printing liquid fueled engine nozzles. Printing sounds more applicable to solid fuel. A machine that "printed" solid fuel rockets in large quantities would be a good step.

Anonymous said...

if Kiwipedia says it, it must be true! LOL

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but solid fuel and printing (which requires increased temperature) seems to be a good idea... for a big BOOOM!

And kiwipedia... yeah sure...

Brian H said...

IMO, the problem with EMC2 is the effort to harness stable fusion. The flaring runaway instabilities that give all such "meso-scale" fusion systems fits is gonna trash their rig every so often: seconds, minutes, hours.

The LPP pulsed system has no such concerns.

Brian H said...

Hope your investment was a significant one, and that you do very well from it, Paul!

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