Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works is building a new, more capable test reactor as it continues to move ahead with its ambitious Compact Fusion Reactor program, or CFR. Despite slower than expected progress, the company remains confident the project can produce practical results, which would completely transform how power gets generated for both military and civilian purposes.
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“The work we have done today verifies our models and shows that the physics we are talking about – the basis of what we are trying to do – is sound,” Jeff Babione, Skunk Works Vice President and General Manager, told Aviation Week. “This year we are constructing another reactor – T5 – which will be a significantly larger and more powerful reactor than our T4.”
The T5’s main job will be to further test whether Skunk Work’s basic reactor design can handle the heat and pressure from the highly energized plasma inside, which is central to how the system works. In a nuclear fusion reaction, a gaseous fuel gets heated up to a point where the pressure is so intense that its very atomic structure gets disrupted and certain particles fuse together into a heavier nucleus. This process also involves the release of a massive amount of energy, which, in principle, could be used to run a traditional thermal power generator.
“We are currently scheduled to have that [the T5] go online towards the end of this year,” Babione said. “So that will be another significant leap in capability and towards demonstrating that the physics underlining our concept works.”
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Containing the reaction, the same one that occurs in our sun and other stars, and doing so for a protracted period of time, remains the biggest hurdle. Nuclear fusion creates temperatures of hundreds of millions of degrees Fahrenheit, which, in turn, also generate extremely high pressures inside the reactor vessel. The energy from fusion reactions can be so powerful that countries have already weaponized it in the form of hydrogen bombs.
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Lockheed Martin says that the CFR design could eventually be small enough to fit inside a shipping container, but still be able to power a Nimitz class aircraft carrier or up to 80,000 homes. The patent documents suggest it might eventually be compact enough to even power a large aircraft.
There’s more at the link.
Here’s a video report from Lockheed Martin about their project, and its implications for the future.
The nation that first achieves commercially viable nuclear fusion will – at least for a time – have a monumental advantage over all others. It’ll have, essentially, the power of the sun available to generate unlimited electricity, without any risk of radioactive pollution from the wastes generated by traditional nuclear fission reactors. Other countries – particularly the ITER international consortium, plus China – are far advanced with their own research in the field, and are generally believed to be ahead of US scientists (although it’s impossible to say for sure whether that’s true or not, due to the secrecy surrounding many developments in the field).
Good luck to Lockheed Martin with their research.