Pulsar Fusion, a British aerospace startup, is making significant strides in the development of a groundbreaking fusion rocket engine that could revolutionise space travel. By harnessing the power of nuclear fusion, the same process that fuels the Sun, the company aims to propel spacecraft at unparalleled speeds, potentially reaching up to 800,000 km per hour. This ambitious project has the potential to cut travel time to Mars in half and open up unprecedented opportunities for human exploration of distant planets and celestial bodies.
One of the key challenges in long-duration space missions is the detrimental impact of microgravity and cosmic radiation on astronaut health. To mitigate these risks, NASA has been striving to reduce mission durations to less than four years. However, with current rocket propulsion technology, it takes around seven months to reach Mars alone, leaving a significant portion of the mission dedicated to the arduous journey back to Earth.
Pulsar Fusion’s fusion rocket presents a solution to this problem. By utilizing the immense energy released during fusion reactions, the company aims to create exhaust speeds capable of propelling spacecraft at an astounding 800,000 km per hour. For comparison, the fastest a crewed rocket has ever flown is 39,897 km per hour. This tremendous acceleration could potentially enable round trips to the outer planets and facilitate expeditions to witness the rings of Saturn or explore the moons of Jupiter.
The concept of fusion, which occurs when two atoms merge, has long been pursued as a clean energy solution due to its ability to generate vast amounts of energy without harmful emissions. While scientists have successfully triggered fusion reactions briefly, sustaining them has proven to be a considerable challenge.
Pulsar Fusion’s approach involves creating a fusion rocket that can sustain the fusion reaction. Interestingly, the vacuum of space might provide favorable conditions for maintaining the turbulent plasma at fusion temperatures. If successful, this fusion rocket could drastically reduce travel times within the solar system, potentially allowing trips to Mars and back in a matter of weeks rather than months or years.
Pulsar Fusion has recently formed a partnership with aerospace R&D company Princeton Satellite Systems (PSS) to leverage artificial intelligence in modeling the behavior of hot plasma in a fusion rocket engine. Additionally, the company has commenced the construction of an eight-meter fusion reaction chamber in the UK, with plans to initiate firing tests by 2025 and achieve fusion temperatures by 2027. The ultimate goal is to conduct a test firing in orbit, demonstrating the viability of fusion-powered propulsion for future space exploration.