Skunk Works Reveals Compact Fusion Reactor Details
The article above may be one of the most exciting developments in some time, with working fusion power being one of the most-promised developments of the past half-century at least. Fusion power has always been “twenty years away” for as long as I can remember, but this development from Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works team claims a miniature fusion power source prototype in five years, and actual production units in a ten-year timeframe. Of course, being Skunk Works, if they claim commercial applications within a decade, I highly suspect that they already have a working unit. Likewise, if they are developing a plasma power supply, it would assuredly be in support of some larger project or projects requiring such energy-rich and compact sources of energy.
I see a specific space application for this, in the realm of propulsion. A VASIMR rocket mission such as proposed by former astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz’s company, Ad Astra, is planned to take crews to Mars within 39 days. The only obstacle to this mission profile’s success is power, that is, 200 megawatts of it. From what the article states, their unit, dubbed experiment T4, should be about the size of a semi-trailer and generate 100 MW. Having two of these for primary power and a third for redundancy would give a VASIMR-propelled ship all the power it needed and then some for other shipboard needs, and within a very near term.