Humanity can reach Mars, though nine months stuck in a ship doesn’t sound like much fun to me. Testing has shown it won’t be much fun for the astronauts either, so what we really need is a faster way to explore space. Until we can manage warp drive, we’ll have to stick with sub-light propulsion.
The University of Washington (UW), in cooperation with MSNW, has been working to develop a functional fusion propulsion system. If the system ends up working, it could cut down the trip to Mars from nine months to about 30 days. The trick is getting it to work.
Ever since scientists figured out how the sun really works, people have been trying to figure out how to reproduce the effect. None have succeeded. The UW/MSNW team is developing a system that forces tiny metal rings through a magnetic field with specific properties, designed to collapse the rings. When the rings collapse, they do so around a wee bit of deuterium, compressing it and producing fusion reaction that lasts for a few millionths of a second. Even that short a burst should output a large amount of energy.
The fusion system will go into testing later this summer and, if successful, could usher in a new era of energy production here on Earth as well as among the stars.
Below, you’ll find a video about the research.