Finally, the practical use of nuclear fusion

There are hundreds of such reactors in state-funded research facilities around the world, called tokamaks United Europe Torus In the United Kingdom, it cooperates with ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, in 35 countries in southern France. For decades, researchers have been using them to meet the challenges of nuclear fusion, which is a potentially revolutionary technology that can provide essentially unlimited energy. Inside the tokamak, powerful magnets are used to keep the rotating plasma under high pressure, enabling it to reach the tens of millions of degrees required for atoms to fuse and release energy. Cynics argue that nuclear fusion is always destined to be the energy source of the future—now that fusion experiments still consume more electricity than they produce.

But Costadinova and her collaborator Dmitri Orlov were more interested in the plasma in these reactors, realizing that it might be the perfect environment for simulating spacecraft entering the atmosphere of a gaseous giant planet. Orlov studies the DIII-D fusion reactor at the US Department of Energy facility in San Diego, which is an experimental tokamak, but his background is in aerospace engineering.

Together, they conducted a series of ablation experiments using the DIII-D device.They used a port on the bottom of the tokamak to insert a series of carbon rods into the plasma stream and used high-speed infrared cameras and spectrometers to track How they disintegrated. Orlov and Kostadinova also launched tiny Carbon particles Enter the reactor at high speed, mimicking on a small scale what the heat shield on the Galileo probe encounters in Jupiter’s atmosphere.

The conditions inside the tokamak are very similar in terms of the temperature of the plasma, the velocity of the material flowing through it, and even its composition: Jupiter’s atmosphere is mainly hydrogen and helium, and the DIII-D tokamak uses deuterium, which is an isotope of hydrogen. . “We didn’t launch things at very high speeds, but put a stationary object into a very fast stream,” Orlov said.

The experiments presented at the American Physical Society meeting in Pittsburgh this month help to verify Ablation model This was developed by NASA scientists using data sent back from the Galileo probe. But they can also serve as a proof of concept for a new type of test. “We are opening up this new field of research,” Orlov said. “No one has done it before.”

This is something the industry urgently needs. “There is a lag in the new test procedure,” Yanni Barghouty said, who was Universe Shield Company, A start-up company that builds radiation shields for spacecraft. “It allows you to prototype faster and cheaper-there is a feedback loop.”

It remains to be seen whether nuclear fusion reactors will become an actual test site-they are very sensitive devices designed entirely for other purposes. Orlov and Kostadinov gained time at DIII-D as part of a special effort to expand scientific knowledge using the reactor, using the ports built into the tokamak to safely test new materials. But this is an expensive process. They spent half a million dollars a day on the machine. Therefore, when there are opportunities in the future, such experiments may be rarely conducted to adjust and improve computer simulations.

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