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Beyond Earthly Skies

Pulse Propulsion Using Hydrogen

20 May 2013, 11:39 UTC
Pulse Propulsion Using Hydrogen Seth Pritchard
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A spacecraft propelled by a deuterium-tritium (D-T) nuclear pulse propulsion system can enable fast manned interplanetary spaceflight. The concept involves igniting tiny D-T thermonuclear targets to create a continuous series of thermonuclear micro-explosions. In D-T fusion reactions, the production of energetic neutrons carries away 80 percent of the reaction energy. However, the prodigious amount of energetic neutrons means that large radiators are required to dissipate the heat generated from the absorption of neutrons by the spacecraft body. One way around that is to employ deuterium-helium 3 (D-He3) fusion reactions instead since D-He3 reactions do not produce neutrons. Nevertheless, helium 3 is a rare isotope and can only be obtained in sufficient quantities from the atmospheres of the giant planets in the outer solar system.Credit: Seth PritchardFor space travel within the inner solar system, a means of nuclear pulse propulsion without requiring helium 3 is much desired. However, an advantage of inner solar system spaceflight is that very high speeds are not required. As a result, a modified form of D-T nuclear pulse propulsion can be used by igniting each D-T thermonuclear target within a sphere of neutron-absorbing liquid hydrogen. Although the propellant exhaust velocity will be much lower compared to ...

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