In a recent interview Elon Musk said that it would take approximately 50 years to reach our nearest star system. Is this really true? Could a breakthrough allow us to more quickly cross the 4 light year distance to our closest neighboring star, Alpha Centauri?
Well we’ll certainly take a look at that, but for now, what about getting to planets in our own Solar System more quickly? How close are we to achieving that goal? The speed of either class of journey depends on breakthroughs in nuclear fusion for both space propulsion systems and for realizing unlimited energy production on other planetary bodies and here on Earth.
An international partnership was recently announced between Oxfordshire Pulsar Fusion and Princeton Satellite Systems in the United States to develop fusion technology for spacecraft propulsion that could drastically shorten the time it takes to travel to distant worlds.
According to an article in SpaceRef, the new partnership pools the two companies' resources. Pulsar founder and CEO Richard Dinan told Space Ref, “ We build electric propulsion systems, which is all plasma physics and electromagnetic confinement fusion studies.”
The new partnership will give Pulsar access to Princeton’s data from fusion research on its reactor known as the Princeton Field-Reversed Configuration machine. The goal of the project is to create a direct fusion drive for spacecraft propulsion. This collaboration to develop the first fusion powered rocket could potentially slash travel time to Saturn’s moon Titan from seven to two years and cut travel time to Mars down to 30 days instead of 9 months.
Here on Earth, we are witnessing an increase in funding for fusion research awarded to several commercial companies. Following the breakthrough in December 2022 at the Lawrence Livermore National Labs National Ignition Facility which created a controlled thermonuclear fusion reaction with 192 lasers, delivering 2.05 MJ of energy into a capsule and producing 3.05 MJ of fusion energy out, eight companies were recently selected by the Department of Energy (DOE) to design a power plant that uses fusion power.
The companies selected earned a $46 million grant from the DOE as part of a Biden plan to have a fusion powered electricity plant within a decade. The companies have 18 months to develop their designs. It is exciting that despite the insanity of the Biden collective, funding continues into fusion research and pilot projects. But the funding for what could literally transform all of humanity for the better is dwarfed by the billions of dollars going into funding the war in Ukraine, not to mention the billions provided to Ukraine as the result of errors in the Pentagon’s bookkeeping.
The eight companies selected for funding by the DOE include CommonWealth Fusion Systems, Focused Energy Inc, Princeton Stellerators Inc, Realta Fusion Inc, Tokamak Energy Inc, Type One Energy Group, XCimer Energy Inc, and Zap Energy Inc. The companies will use a number of different methods for developing their concepts for a fusion pilot project, from advanced lasers, inertial confinement, magnetic confinement, pinch effect, electromagnetic phenomenon, and more. Charlie Jarrot, a senior scientist with Focused energy says their ultimate goal is “to produce electrical power with just tap water.”
But viable fusion power plants and propulsion systems will not be realized in a timely manner if this work continues to be treated as a nice little research project while the main funding and effort is insanely expended on meeting zero carbon emission goals by 2050 through implementation of fraudulent green energy scams. Fully realizing fusion energy’s potential requires a national commitment to a quantum leap in energy flux density to supply cheap abundant energy here on earth and for propelling humanity out into the solar system and beyond. This goes directly to the vision laid out by former President Trump in his Artemis Program to return American astronauts to the Moon to colonize and mine the lunar surface while utilizing the facilities built there as a launching pad for Mars exploration and colonization. It is also a very direct requirement for realizing President Trump’s Agenda 47 plans to revolutionize the American standard of living through the building of new cities and the building of advanced manufacturing and industrial platforms.
Now back to the question: How close are we to making the trip to our nearest neighboring star a more reasonable proposition? Breakthrough Starshot is an initiative announced back in 2016 which leverages recent developments in laser technology to develop a fleet of light sail interstellar probes named StarChips, capable of accelerating along the way to the Alpha Centauri star system where the hundreds of tiny spacecraft will probe Alpha Centauri’s planets for signs of life. Can you imagine nano spacecraft traveling toward a star system 4 light years away at a fifth of the speed of light and reaching Alpha Centauri in around 20 years, rather than tens or hundreds of millenia?
Starshot will use lasers, to speed up the process. The lasers will hit the nano craft StarChips’ light sails and send them speeding at more than a 100 million miles an hour toward Alpha Centauri. If all of the challenges and problems of meeting such a goal are solved in due time, launches could take place in 2069 on the 100th anniversary of Apollo 11. Although that doesn’t directly answer the question about sending humans to other star systems or making humanity a multiplanetary species, it does help us to recognize the optimistic future ahead of us if we keep fighting for the national commitment necessary to make such breakthroughs and quantum leaps in technological progress.