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The Need for a Better Alpha

6 May 2015, 19:09 UTC
The Need for a Better Alpha
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What the heck is Alpha?What Alpha am I talking about? A power source's ratio of mass to power. The first time I ran into this quantity was in a NASASpaceFlight discussion of VASIMR's 39 day trip to Mars.Kirk Sorensen worked for NASA 10 years. He has Master's degrees in aerospace as well as nuclear engineering. He is co-founder of Flibe Energy, a company that hopes to build thorium nuclear reactors. I don't always agree with him but I believe he has some expertise in this field. For the time being I am talking his word for it.So this Magic Alpha, .50 kg/kWe, what is that? Here's an attempt to portray it:This Ford Focus has a 160 horsepower engine. One horsepower = ~750 watts, so the engine is about a 12,000 watt power source. Not only the engine but also gasoline and oxygen. Pictured with the Focus is Dominique who masses about 60 kilograms. If she were a power source replacing the engine, gasoline and oxygen, we'd have an alpha of .5 kg/kW.An electric car like the Tesla uses a battery. But just as a gas engine must make periodic stops to gas up, a Tesla must be frequently recharged. Enroute ...

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