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Parametric Studies of Dense Plasma Focus for Fusion Space Propulsion with D - He3

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Special rept. May-Aug 1990

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A coaxial electrode system known as the dense plasma focus DPF is investigated as a possible space propulsion concept. A large potential difference between the electrodes ionizes the gaseous fusion fuel and forms an annular plasma sheath. This sheath then propagates down the length of the anode entraining additional fuel along the way. The rundown phase is analyzed by solving the momentum equation using this snowplow model. At the end of the anode, MHD instabilities cause the sheath to collapse into a hot, high density plasma where fusion events occur. Fusion reaction products as well as unreacted fuel can then be used to produce thrust. It is also possible to use the reaction products to heat hydrogen propellant in order to produce more thrust. An open- ended coolant cycle may be used in order to avoid the necessity for large radiators. In this way, the heated coolant can be used to drive a turbogenerator to produce electricity before it is exhausted as propellant. A model of the DPF is developed, various operating regimes are identified, and key parameters varied to define optimum operating ranges. Computations were made with the FORTRAN code found in the appendix. Operation with no hydrogen propellant allows high specific impulse values, about 1 million s, possible at thrusts of about 44.5 N 10 lbf. High specific impulse make larger mission Vs possible and can decrease trip time and reduce exposure of astronauts to cosmic radiation.

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  • Nuclear Propulsion

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