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Prototype of Plasma Engine Launched in Novosibirsk
December 29, 2017 12:29

A unique installation for keeping plasma has been engineered at the G. Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics, RAS. In the future, it may give basis for a superpowerful engine, capable of providing flights to the nearest planets.
The invention has been named SMOLA, which stands for Spiral Magnetic Open Trap. On the one hand, the new installation should help to make one more step towards controlled thermonuclear fusion (TNF), and on the other hand it will enable the spacecraft to accelerate to record speeds.
On the way to thermonuclear fusion as an inexhaustible source of environmentally pure energy, the problems have turned out to be many more than scientists assumed half a century ago. Nowadays, the experimental thermonuclear reactor (ETNR) is being built in the south of France. It is based on a tokamak, a closed plasma trap. However, thermonuclear energy of the future is unlikely to be generated on the basis of a tokamak. First of all, it costs too much (the estimate of ETNR's exceeded 15 billion euros), and construction time is constantly delayed. And secondly, in tokamak it is possible to ignite only plasma, consisting of a tritium and deuterium mixture. But tritium is itself radioactive, and the reaction process creates neutron radiation. So such a thermonuclear station will cause nearly the same environmental problems as the nuclear power plant today.
Open traps, which are dealt with in the Institute of Nuclear Physics, are free from these shortcomings: they are way simpler and cheaper, and can generate a clean, neutron-free thermonuclear reaction. But the trouble is that they are open, which means that the plasma may possibly leak out of them. The installation SMOLA is meant to solve this issue.
“The idea was to create a magnetic field in the form of a screw. Imagine a meat grinder that is turning minced meat. In our case that minced meat is the plasma”, - senior researcher of the Institute, Anton Sudnikov explained.
“Plasma particles tend to fly out of the meat grinder through the grill, but if we turn the handle in the opposite direction, the mincemeat will move backwards - the opposite impulses compensate each other and the plasma remains in place, that is, in trap”.
"According to theoretical estimates, the longitudinal plasma losses will decrease by 20-100 times. This will make it possible to raise the plasma temperature a lot”, - commented Alexander Ivanov, Deputy Director of the Institute.
It is planned that two SMOLA units will become parts of a new gas-dynamic multi-mirror trap, which is designed in the Institute. It is expected to attain plasma parameters, which are not inferior to the best tokamaks. This can be a real breakthrough. Besides, if we start turning the handle of the meat grinder in the opposite direction, then the plasma particles will not be decelerated, but, on the contrary, will fly out with acceleration. In this case, we will get the prototype of a plasma engine, with which you can fly not only to the Moon or Mars, but also to the distant planets of the solar system.
“SMOLA is a beautiful and fast implementation of the idea of ​​keeping plasma with parameters close to controlled thermonuclear fusion”, - the Institute director, Pavel Logachev commented. “We expect to get new technologies for thermonuclear fusion, on the one hand, and a promising plasma engine for spacecrafts, on the other hand”.



Author: Vera Ivanova


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