This is an invention that might possibly modify the civilization as we know it: A compact fusion reactor presented by Skunk Works, the stealth experimental technology section of Lockheed Martin. It’s about the size of a jet engine and it can power airplanes, most likely spaceships, and cities. Skunk Works state that it will be operational in 10 years.
Aviation Week had complete access to their stealthy workshops and spoke to Dr. Thomas McGuire, the leader of Skunk Work’s Revolutionary Technology section. And ground-breaking it is, certainly: Instead of utilizing the similar strategy that everyone else is using— the Soviet-derived tokamak, a torus in which magnetic fields limit the fusion reaction with an enormous energy cost and thus tiny energy production abilities—Skunk Works’ Compact Fusion Reactor has a fundamentally different methodology to anything people have tried before. Here are the two of those techniques for contrast:
The old-style Soviet tokamak scheme of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, a huge system being constructed in France.
The crucial point in the Skunk Works arrangement is their tube-like design, which permits them to avoid one of the boundaries of usual fusion reactor designs, which are very restricted in the sum of plasma they can sustain, which makes them giant in size—like the gigantic International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. According to McGuire:
“The traditional tokamak designs can only hold so much plasma, and we call that the beta limit. Their plasma ratio is 5% or so of the confining pressure. We should be able to go to 100% or beyond.”
This design lets it to be 10 times smaller at the same power output of somewhat like the ITER, which is anticipated to produce 500 MW in the 2020s. This is essential for the use of fusion in all kind of uses, not only in huge, costly power plants. Skunk Works is committed that their structure—which will be only the size of a jet engine—will be capable enough to power almost everything, from spacecraft to airplanes to vessels—and obviously scale up to a much bigger size. McGuire also claims that at the size of the ITER, it will be able to produce 10 times more energy.
The one thing here to remind everyone is that Lockheed Martin is not a stupid dude working in a garage. It’s one of the world’s major aerospace and military corporations. McGuire also understands that they are just starting now, but he says that the architecture of this compact fusion reactor is sound and they will progress rapidly until its final operation in just a decade:
“We would like to get to a prototype in five generations. If we can meet our plan of doing a design-build-test generation every year, that will put us at about five years, and we’ve already shown we can do that in the lab. So it wouldn’t be at full power, like a working concept reactor, but basically just showing that all the physics works.”
After five years, they believe to have a completely operative model prepared to go into full-scale construction, capable of producing 100MW— which is enough to power a huge cargo ship or an 80,000-home city—and its size will be 23 x 42 feet only which is quite amazing.
Fabio Evangelista is a Brazilian writer.
Crossed Paths is the first book of the Myra-Hati trilogy, an epic adventure in a post-apocalyptic world, for the lovers of sci-fi / fantasy genre. This is the author’s first work published in America.