Aerospace & Defence

Rocket that could half space travel times tested in the UK

10th February 2020
Lanna Cooper

A super-fast 100,000mph interstellar space rocket has been tested by Pulsar Fusion, a privately owned and operated nuclear fusion firm based in Bletchley, Milton Keynes, has built and tested a miniature prototype of a plasma powered rocket thruster, that could more than double space flight speeds.

Current rockets work well at propelling astronauts into space, but have a maximum exhaust speed of around 40,000mph. So once outside of Earth’s atmosphere, they are too slow for humans to travel meaningful distances in acceptable mission timeframes. 

Sending a spacecraft with people on board much beyond Mars is currently far out of reach of existing space sector technology. But a nuclear fusion engine has the ability to half journey times to the red planet and make expeditions beyond our solar system a realistic possibility.

The thruster tested at Pulsar is capable of reaching a top speed of 100,000mph, with the device also capable of achieving ten times the efficiency of a conventional chemical rocket.

A huge amount of energy is put into argon gas, the propellant, to produce a high temperature plasma similar to that found in a nuclear fusion reactor, before an electromagnetic field is used to shoot out the plasma at very high speeds.

The device has been constructed as part of Pulsar’s initiative to design and build a larger, hotter thruster that will utilise nuclear fusion power to ultimately create exhaust speeds in excess of 500,000 mph.

Head of Operations at Pulsar, Dr James Lambert said: “This first round of tests is designed to locate our concept in space design and explore state of the art electric propulsion. It included electrical and vacuum subsystem validation, as well as using a materials testing suite to establish flight parameters and minimum viable product specifications for the new generation of thruster engines.” 

CEO at Pulsar, Richard Dinan said: “I see Nuclear Fusion as a sector that will sweep in a whole host of innovation - it is not just power station technology. Propulsion is possibly even a natural first step, over powering the national grid, on the road towards commercial fusion. At Pulsar, we develop and invest in several promising components and technologies, each with nuclear fusion at their heart.”

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