Aviation Week lists potential technologies in Imagining the Future

Aviation Weeks lists 16 technologies in an Imagining the Future special.

Orbitec is working on vortex and electric propulsion, heating vortex plasmas with microwaves [and] using water vapor as propellant. They are working on rocket engines whose thrust chambers are made entirely of electromagnetism, whose nozzles are magnetic lines of force and whose exhaust is plasma hotter than the Sun.

ORBITEC is developing the Dual-Mode Water Rocket Propulsion system, a flexible in-space propulsion system that relies on water as propellant feedstock for both chemical and electric propulsion modes. Both propulsion modes rely on solar-derived electric power.

To operate in chemical propulsion mode, water is electrolyzed to produce hydrogen and oxygen gas. These gaseous propellants are then intermittently burned to produce thrust in ORBITEC’s Stoichiometric Combustion Rocket Engine (SCORE), a high-performance chemical thruster which relies on ORBITEC’s vortex cold-wall technology to deliver high efficiency in the challenging environment of stoichiometric combustion.

To operate in electric propulsion mode, water is vaporized and delivered to the Microwave Electrothermal Thruster (MET), an electrode-less electric thruster that permits high performance with water. The combination of the two propulsion modes, relying on a common propellant, promises to deliver a high-performance propulsion system which will be particularly responsive to emerging mission requirements, permitting either high-thrust or high-specific impulse as needed.

The dual-mode system offers major advantages over current state-of-the-art in-space propulsion systems, including:

* Increased flexibility
* Improved specific impulse
* Non-toxic, green propellants
* Totally inert launch state to guarantee operational safety

Experimental evidence suggests low energy nuclear reaction (LENR) technology could be an extremely clean energy source that would revolutionize aerospace. “But much work remains to turn today’s inefficient and self-destructive devices into practical powerplants,” says Joseph Zawodny, NASA Langley Research Center’s lead scientist for the energy technical challenge area. After the “cold fusion” debacle of the late 1980s, a growing body of increasingly repeatable experimental evidence indicates the LENR effect is real and likely not fusion, cold or otherwise, he says. LENR’s promise as a green energy source comes from the fact that the ionizing radiation produced is extremely low compared to the energy generated. Given its inherent cleanliness and scalability, LENR is ideally suited as a power source for aircraft, access to space and in-space propulsion. For aviation, LENR represents such an enormous energy density that fuel consumption would be so low that aircraft could essentially take off and land at the same weight. But there remain many challenges to practical LENR power generation, Zawodny cautions.

Photo credit: Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe

Aviation Week had a longer feature of nuclear powered flying airports and more from Zawodny on LENR

LENR represents such an enormous energy density (gigajoules per gram of fuel), and fuel consumption would be so low – the energy from the hydrogen in 40 litres of water could power a 747 half way round the world – that aircraft could be thought of taking off and landing at the same weight, says Zawodny.

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