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Fusion Science and Technology
Trump leaves space nuclear policy executive order for Biden team
A hot fire test of the core stage for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi was not completed as planned. The SLS is the vehicle meant to propel a crewed mission to the moon in 2024. Source: NASA Television
Among the executive orders President Trump issued during his last weeks in office was “Promoting Small Modular Reactors for National Defense and Space Exploration,” which builds on the Space Policy Directives published during his term. The order, issued on January 12, calls for actions within the next six months by NASA and the Department of Defense (DOD), together with the Department of Energy and other federal entities. Whether the Biden administration will retain some, all, or none of the specific goals of the Trump administration’s space nuclear policy remains to be seen, but one thing is very clear: If deep space exploration remains a priority, nuclear-powered and -propelled spacecraft will be needed.
The prospects for near-term deployment of nuclear propulsion and power systems in space improved during Trump’s presidency. However, Trump left office days after a hot fire test of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket did not go as planned. The SLS rocket is meant to propel crewed missions to the moon in 2024 and to enable a series of long-duration lunar missions that could be powered by small lunar reactor installations. The test on January 16 of four engines that were supposed to fire for over eight minutes was automatically aborted after one minute, casting some doubt that a planned November 2021 Artemis I mission can go ahead on schedule.
G. L. Jackson, M. E. Austin, J. S. deGRASSIE, A. W. Hyatt, J. M. Lohr, T. C. Luce, R. Prater, W. P. West
Fusion Science and Technology | Volume 57 | Number 1 | January 2010 | Pages 27-40
Technical Paper | dx.doi.org/10.13182/FST10-A9266
Articles are hosted by Taylor and Francis Online.
Second-harmonic X-mode (X2) electron cyclotron (EC) heating (ECH) has been used in DIII-D in conjunction with plasma initiation and current ramp-up. Although the toroidal inductive electric field E in DIII-D is high enough (0.9 to 1.0 V/m) to allow robust start-up without EC assist, start-up in fusion devices such as ITER will have lower fields (E = 0.3 V/m), and EC assist can provide a reproducible breakdown and an increased margin for burnthrough of low-Z impurities. ECH, applied before the inductive electric field, is used to separate the various phases of plasma breakdown and start-up and is defined as preionization. Preionization first occurs near the X2 resonance location and then expands in the vessel volume. Perpendicular launch (k[parallel] = 0) is found to produce the strongest preionization. The power threshold for preionization can be reduced by optimizing the prefill and the vertical field, although the lowest power threshold is not at the optimum value for ohmic start-up alone. An orbit-following code confirms that cold electrons (0.03 eV) can be sufficiently heated by ECH to energies above the threshold of ionization of hydrogen. This code predicts heating in new tokamaks such as KSTAR and ITER to energies where preionization can occur. The ITER start-up scenario has been simulated in DIII-D experiments, and X2 ECH assist has been applied at reduced toroidal loop voltage to assist burnthrough and plasma current ramp-up.