Friday, September 14, 2007
Andrews Space created a new concept for the propulsion of spacebound vehicles based on the Orion concept from the late 1950s. The new concept builds on the original Orion concept by reducing the size and implementing magnetic implosion technology.
The newest concept -- dubbed Mini-MagOrion, or MMO -- takes the old Project Orion concept of using small nuclear explosions, one after another, to propell a spacecraft faster than any propulsion system in use today. The MMO concept also builds on the original MagOrion concept which failed due to certain technological limitations -- superconductor limitations -- and political issues -- sending a vehicle to the sky which had the ability to launch multiple nuclear explosives at high rates of repetition.
At the heart of the Mini-MagOrion concept is the idea of compressing initially subcritical fission assemblies by use of an imploding Z-pinch. This enables the lower yield values, external triggering of the fission reaction, and reduces the severity of the environment in which the engine has to operate. The MMO program included the analysis of solid, high Z material compression, paired with the experimental verification / calibration of the analysis.
The MMO concept utilizes a Z-pinch, which uses electrical current to generate a magnetic field to keep that plasma under control. This helps maintain a safe environment for the engine to operate without eradicating the engine, vehicle, and anything close to it.
It is said that the force created by MMO-based engines can push spacebound vehicles to about 10% the speed of light. If this technology can be materialized, the time it takes to complete manned and unmanned space missions will be significantly shortened.