Fusion-Enabled Pluto Orbiter and Lander, Phase II

Metadata Updated: February 28, 2019

The Direct Fusion Drive (DFD) concept provides game-changing propulsion and power capabilities that would revolutionize interplanetary travel. DFD is based on the Princeton Field-Reversed Configuration (PFRC) fusion reactor under development at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. The mission context we are proposing is delivery of a Pluto orbiter with a lander. DFD provides high thrust to allow for reasonable transit times to Pluto while delivering substantial mass to orbit: 1000 kg delivered in 4 years. Since DFD provides power as well as propulsion in one integrated device, it will also provide as much as 1 MW of power to the payloads upon arrival. This enables high-bandwidth communication, powering of the lander from orbit, and radically expanded options for instrument design. The data acquired by New Horizons' recent Pluto flyby is just a tiny fraction of the scientific data that could be generated from an orbiter and lander. Engine modeling accomplished during Phase I has shown that we can expect 2.5 to 5 N of thrust per megawatt of fusion power, with an Isp of about 10,000 seconds and 200 kW available as electrical power. We have evaluated the components of the Pluto trajectory including an Earth departure spiral, constant thrust planar transfer, and Pluto insertion using these thrust and Isp levels, and confirmed the plausibility of the proposed mission. In fact, the mission can depart from LEO with about the mass we originally estimated for an interplanetary insertion, widening the range of available launch vehicles and reducing the cost.

The key objective of the Phase II proposal is to further advance the design and TRL of selected subsystems, such as the superconducting coils, RF heating, and shielding. PPPL will perform experimental work on the existing PFRC-2 testbed using a gas puff valve, to further investigate the dynamics of the thrust augmentation system (additional gaw flowing through the FRC scrape-offlayer). We will explore the design of a no-thrust mode that captures and reuses the propellant, possibly extracting more power while in orbit around Pluto. Finally, we will develop a model of the synchrotron radiation that is specific to the FRC configuration, as available models are derived from tokamaks. Direct Fusion Drive is a unique fusion engine concept with a physically feasible approach that would dramatically increase the capability of outer planet missions. The fusion-enabled Pluto mission proposed here is credible, exciting, and the benefits to this and all outer planet missions are difficult to overstate. The truly game-changing levels of thrust and power in a modestly sized package could integrate with our current launch infrastructure while radically expanding the science capability of these missions.

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Public: This dataset is intended for public access and use. License: U.S. Government Work

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Metadata Created Date August 1, 2018
Metadata Updated Date February 28, 2019

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Harvested from NASA Data.json

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Resource Type Dataset
Metadata Created Date August 1, 2018
Metadata Updated Date February 28, 2019
Publisher Space Technology Mission Directorate
Unique Identifier TECHPORT_93869
Maintainer Email
Public Access Level public
Bureau Code 026:00
Metadata Context https://project-open-data.cio.gov/v1.1/schema/catalog.jsonld
Metadata Catalog ID https://data.nasa.gov/data.json
Schema Version https://project-open-data.cio.gov/v1.1/schema
Catalog Describedby https://project-open-data.cio.gov/v1.1/schema/catalog.json
Harvest Object Id 0645fa5e-d183-4039-92a1-6e08a16f5bd1
Harvest Source Id 39e4ad2a-47ca-4507-8258-852babd0fd99
Harvest Source Title NASA Data.json
Data First Published 2019-03-01
Homepage URL https://techport.nasa.gov/view/93869
License http://www.usa.gov/publicdomain/label/1.0/
Data Last Modified 2018-07-19
Program Code 026:027
Source Datajson Identifier True
Source Hash 3378e6c14dce50bc9093912f829b65197c5c1de8
Source Schema Version 1.1

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