Fusion in my lifetime?

The 4th last Shuttle Mission (and the second last for Discovery) is in orbit leaving me feeling rather down about the future of the US space program. But today I read about a bright new possibility; fusion! I’ve been feeling down about that that too; all of the science seems to be pointing towards it not being possible due to the world supply of tritium being insufficient.

Count Gregory, The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne

But this method is different. Instead of a deuterium–tritium reaction, this method uses hydrogen (not a rare isotope!) and boron-11 ignited by a laser. The end result is far more controllable than fission or deuterium–tritium fusion and produces virtually no radiation. The best thing is that the researchers feel that this could be “close at hand”. At this stage they only have computer models, but maybe in 5 years they’ll be able to demonstrate this; the lasers needed are being built right now.

(I’ll be using this as the “official” fusion method for De-Classic-Space from now on! It’s a far more practical method than what I envisioned and better still the research is being led from Australia!)

Dreams of VASIMR

I was reading story about VASIMR and I was rather surprised by the quotes. In particular Franklin Chang-Diaz, who is credited as creating the VASIMR concept said;

They were mesmerized by the Apollo days and lived in the Apollo era for 40 years, and they just forgot developing something new

I think this statement is rather harsh, not to mention deceptive. Due to their low budget, NASA has been focused on Earth orbit missions ever since the 80s, and thus have been using more traditional booster methods, such as solid rockets and cryogenic rocket engine. There simply hasn’t been the money (or much reason) for research like this as by their own admission VASIMR is simply not suitable for these roles as it is designed for long term thrust in vacuum and its power to weigh ratio is too low.

I’m not really sure what game he’s playing there, but since he is CEO of the Ad Astra Rocket Company and all they do is develop the VASIMR, his motivations are suspect. Annoying several websites have published what reads like a PR release without much editing.

Personally I see this research as interesting and useful, but no where near as useful as a Space Shuttle replacement… something VASIMR will need to progress from an experiment to a practical technology. Research into technology like mass drivers, Scramjets and fusion power makes more sense.