Finally, A Practical Application for Nuclear Fusion


There are several hundred reactors, known as tokamak, in state -funded research facilities around the world, including United European Toros in the United Kingdom, and ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, a 35-country collaboration in southern France. For decades, researchers have used it to address the challenges of nuclear fusion, a potentially revolutionary technology that can provide unlimited power. Within a tokamak, powerful magnets are used to hold the rotating plasma at high pressure, enabling it to reach the tens of millions of degrees required for the atoms to coalesce and release energy. . Cynics argue that nuclear fusion is destined to remain an eternal source of energy in the future — today, fusion experiments still consume more electricity than they generate.

But Kostadinova and his collaborator Dimitri Orlov were more interested in the plasma inside these reactors, which they realized would be the perfect environment to mimic a spacecraft entering the atmosphere of a gas giant. Orlov works on the DIII-D fusion reactor, an experimental tokamak at the U.S. Department of Energy’s facility in San Diego, but his background is more than aerospace engineering.

Together, they used DIII-D facilities to run a series of ablation experiments. Using a port under the tokamak, they inserted a series of carbon rods into the plasma flow, and used high-speed and infrared cameras and spectrometers to monitor. how they break up. Orlov and Kostadinova also fired minuscule carbon pellets to the reactor at high speed, mimicking to a small extent what the heat shield of the Galileo probe would encounter in Jupiter’s atmosphere.

The conditions inside the tokamak are remarkably similar in terms of plasma temperature, the speed of its flow over the material, and even its composition: The Jovian atmosphere is mostly hydrogen and helium, the DIII-D tokamak uses of deuterium, which is an isotope of hydrogen. “Instead of launching something at a very high speed, we instead put a non -stop object into a very fast run,” Orlov said.

The experiments, presented at a meeting of the American Physical Society in Pittsburgh this month, helped validate the ablation models created by NASA scientists using data sent from the Galileo probe. But they also serve as proof of concept for a new type of test. “We’re opening up this new field of research,” Orlov said. “No one has done this before.”

This is something that the industry desperately needs. “There’s a lag in new testing methods,” said Yanni Barghouty, founder of Cosmic Shielding Corporation, a start to the construction of radiation shields for the spacecraft. “It allows you to prototype faster and cheaper — there’s a feedback loop.”

Whether nuclear fusion reactors can be a practical testing area remains to be seen – these are more sensitive devices designed for a completely different purpose. Orlov and Kostadinov were given time on DIII-D as part of a special effort to use the reactor to expand scientific knowledge, using a port built on the tokamak for the purpose of safe testing of the new materials. But it is an expensive process. Their day on the machine is worth half a million dollars. As a result, this type of experiment is likely to be done little in the future, if the opportunity arises, to tweak and improve computer simulations.



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