Nuclear Technology / Volume 166 / Number 3 / June 2009 / Pages 295-300
Technical Note / 2007 Space Nuclear Conference / Miscellaneous
A radical new inertial electrostatic confinement (IEC) fusion concept, the magnetically channeled IEC trap array (MCTA), is studied as a candidate power unit for interplanetary space travel. IEC fusion concepts are widely recognized to be attractive for space power because they are simple and lightweight. However, existing experimental IEC concepts, while very successful for low-level power neutron sources, do not project to high-power space applications because of poor confinement-time scaling and grid heating/losses. The MCTA concept addresses both issues: eliminating the need for a central grid by injecting energetic ions into this unique hybrid configuration and providing improved confinement by connecting a number of traps. Because of the linearly connected geometry and compatibility with an efficient traveling wave direct-energy converter, aneutronic fuels, such as D-3He, can be implemented. Thus, the MCTA concept has the potential to accomplish the demanding requirements of future deep-space propulsion and power by providing a high power-density propulsion system. This promise was amply demonstrated in an earlier, reasonably detailed design study by University of Illinois researchers that used an MCTA to accomplish a fast manned mission to Jupiter.
In the present paper, we discuss the basic MCTA concept and examine stability issues that must be resolved to access the feasibility of this concept. Some important supporting data carry over from prior IEC experiments, but a full MCTA configuration has yet to be studied experimentally. If proven feasible, the MCTA development path would involve experiments at progressively higher powers aimed at the ultimate demonstration of a full-scale, several-hundred-MW propulsion unit.