Positron Dynamics has seed funding from Paypal billionaire Peter Thiel’s Breakout Labs. Initial simulations show that as much as 10 micrograms of positrons could be produced each week with a linear accelerator,” says co-founder Ryan Weed, PhD, a physicist and former cryogenic engineer for Jeff Bezos’s space flight company Blue Origin. We could see the beginning of the age of commercial antimatter within five years.
Right now, the best solution for cooling the positrons is running them through a block of frozen neon (called a “moderator”), which offers a minimum of stray electrons. But the system only catches roughly one in 100 positron.
Positron Dynamics uses an array of 50 or more thinly sliced semiconducting solids. At each layer in the array, particles will lose a little bit of heat to each one until they’re cool enough to trap. From there, the positrons can be pulled out of the empty spaces between the layers by a magnetic field. Many of these tactics have been tried before, but never in exactly this combination. The lab also has a few new tricks up its sleeve, like keeping the entire system in a vacuum, so the positrons have a better chance of surviving the different layers of array without running into any electrons. Inevitably, most positrons will still explode before they can make it through the trap — but if Weed can get even one in ten to survive, it would be a massive breakthrough, potentially turning antimatter into an industrial product. Even better, if the Positron Dynamics-style moderator takes off, it could scale the process to even more positron-rich environments like linear accelerators, which create antimatter on a much larger scale.
With micrograms, manned antimatter catalyzed fusion would enable 1 year trips to Jupiter and speeds of 100 kilometers per second for 100 tons and 1000 kilometers per second for probes. Antiproton-Catalyzed Microfission/Fusion (ACMF). Antimatter Initiated Microfusion (AIM)
500 times better antimatter storage at UC San Diego
Cliff Surko, a physicist at UC San Diego, is working on a positron storage technique that could someday store up to a trillion positrons, more than 500 times the current storage limit. That wouldn’t be enough for a propulsion engine, but it would be plenty for the first-generation scanners that the Positron Dynamics team has envisioned. And like them, Surko imagines it could be ready within the next five years.
Other work on tabletop lasers for producing antimatter
Antimatter for Space Propulsion
The energy released from proton-antiproton annihilation (4.3 x 10^13 cal per gram of antiprotons) is 10 billion times greater than oxygen-hydrogen combustion and 100 times more energetic than fission or fusion.
The efficiency of production based on proton/high-Z material collisions can be improved substantially by optimizing proton acceleration energy and incorporating improved collection methods. Assuming an optimized energy of 200 GeV and a collection ratio of 1 antiproton per 20 collisions yields an N=10^-4. This 3 to 4 order of magnitude improvement over current capability yields a cost of $25 billion per gram.
Positron Dynamics is shooting for a collection of 1 per ten collision. This would be about $12.5 billion per gram or $12,500 per microgram.
The maximum theoretical η=1/2, and this would yield a cost of $5 million per gram with energy 1 to 10 cents per kwh.
For planetary, early interstellar precursor and simple omniplanetary applications, ACMF (antimatter catalyzed fusion) exhibits the best performance. The reference case of a 1-year human round-trip mission to Jupiter with a 10 to 100 metric ton (mT) payload requires an antimatter quantity of 1 to 10 micrograms (μg). It appears as though this requirement could drop into the 1 to 10 ng range for payloads consistent with unmanned, planetary missions.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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