Scalable New Fusion Drive

The Helicity Drive concept is a novel magneto-inertial fusion concept designed for a fusion space propulsion system. It has promising Lawson criterion performance scaling with input geometry resulting in power output that is uniquely scalable across thrust power classes (10s kW to GW levels) at high specific power. It exploits magnetic reconnection as a fast, high-power ion heating mechanism; natural plasma self-organization as a robust, stable confinement scheme; and passive magnetic compression at modest ratios to reduce overall engineering complexity.

They have received funding from the Limitless Space Institute (part of the Breakthrough Initiative). The work is being done at Caltech with partnership with Lawrence Livermore and other institutions.

– they believe a near-term capability would be two month travel time to Mars.
– They modeled four classes of ships with travel in one year from 26 AU to 211 AU for a 5-ton ship
– A constant acceleration would enable a 117 year flyby of Proxima Centauri
– They would have ships that are far lighter than other fusion propulsion concepts.

SOURCES – LSI, Caltech
Written By Brian Wang,

10 thoughts on “Scalable New Fusion Drive”

  1. ITER is most of all a science project. IMHO, the big reactor they are building in France is of secondary value compared to the research that has been done at all the contributions research labs around the world.

  2. You pay the cost of increased complexity and mass with that boiler – plus a steam/hot gas turbine & extra radiators, plumbing, etc. – while "gaining" thermodynamic losses and most probably larger molecular masses in the exhaust, which isn't desirable. So, extra complexity which adds dev time, risk, maintenance and negative gains. All that to avoid directly expelling light & very hot plasma exhaust – so efficient – which can be magnetically "nozzled" & magnetohydrodynamically converted to electricity for onboard systems.

  3. Agree that Tokamaks are an economic dead end. Rockets are not bound by economics but by performance.

    So by different metrics fusion is both alive and dead.

    Anyhow- i'm invested the dense plasma focus which originally had life as a high ISP pulsed fusion rocket. Even if were to operate in a pulsed power mode with a fission reactor to get it going it would be a good high ISP rocket.

  4. Lots of good articles on fusion and space stuff. Its nice to see the old NextBigFuture back.

  5. No, because it would be economically viable as a rocket at a much lower level of performance.

    And only the sunk cost fallacy keeps ITER going. Well, and probably a lot of kickbacks, too.

  6. But Brett, if that were the case here, don't you think they would build it as a fusion experiment anyway and then work on the quality issues "later", even if that "later" would never be realized?

    Example: By now, I think it's pretty clear that Tokamak fusion without high Tc superconductors is an economical dead end and still they pursue it. (with High Tc superconductors it has a good chance…)

  7. Just because a fusion reactor produced more energy than you put into it, wouldn't mean that it would be economical. Suppose it's really expensive to build, and only runs for 100 days before the radiation requires rebuilding it?

    That would be perfectly acceptable for a fusion rocket, but a real killer for a power plant.

  8. My problem with this is that if you could make a fusion propulsion system that produces more energy than what is put in in the form of electricity, then why don't you just use that for energy production? Just use the thrust beam to heat a boiler plate to generate steam and you are done.

    Which means that it's probably not going to work….

  9. They remind me a lot of Helion Energy. Both are merging and compressing plasmoids. The differences are that they are merging more than just two plasmoids and that they are using Plectonemes instead of FRCs. They are also not translating them over as great distances as Helion does. Their TRL also seems to be a lot lower. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. I certainly wish them luck. It is good to see more novel and fresh fusion concepts. The more the better our chances of getting practical and economic fusion reactors.

  10. I've learned to be somewhat wary of high tech concepts that have flashy websites that don't actually provide anything in the way of technical details. But the video was fairly informative.

    I'll be looking forward to their experimental results.

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