While atomic fusion for energy production has been an elusive goal for the last 7 decades, it seems that variations of the technology are very promising when used to drive a spacecraft. The technological requirements are, strange as it might appear, less important than when used in a terrestrial power plant. As a result we might see them propelling space craft sooner than you might think.
One of the many promising fusion drives being proposed, is this effort by Stephanie Thomas, from Princeton Satellite Systems. Her DIRECT FUSION DRIVE concept is currently being funded as a Phase II grant under the NASA NIAC effort. (The secret dream factory of NASA where the fantastical becomes real). The DIRECT FUSION DRIVE promises fast transit times around the solar system, in a low mass system that circumvents traditional problems like dealing with tritium radiation.
Having solved the latter in a very compact system, with a unique heating method, and in a very simple configuration makes it a very likely candidate for further follow-up investment as it allows for easier iterative terrestrial testing of the design.
The DFD promises, not only to deliver high-efficiency thrust, but also to deliver 1 Megawatt class power in a single device, useful in both Space and Terrestrial applications.
Transit times proposed are 4 years to go into orbit around Pluto, instead of the current 9 to barely do a flyby. This on a direct trajectory. No gravity assist required. At the same time 30 KW of power could be beamed to power scientific equipment on landers on the ground while a 100 KW laser beams back scientific data at ultra high bandwidth.
A fusion reactor that can produce power and thrust in a package weighing less than 2 metric tons and only the size of a mini van? At ONESTAGETOSPACE, we have a use for that.
Her presentation starts at 26 minutes.
Source: NIAC 2017 Symposium
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