The potential use of an INERTIAL ELECTROSTATIC CONFINEMENT (IEC) power source for space propulsion has previously been suggested by the authors and others. In the past, these discussions have generally followed the charged-particle electric-discharge engine (QED) concept proposed by Bussard, in which the IEC is used to generate an electron beam which vaporizes liquid hydrogen for use as a propellant. However, an alternate approach is considered, using the IEC to drive a 'conventional' electric thruster unit. This has the advantage of building on the rapidly developing technology for such thrusters, which operate at higher specific impulse. Key issues related to this approach include the continued successful development of the physics and engineering of the IEC unit, as well as the development of efficient step-down dc voltage transformers. The IEC operates by radial injection of energetic ions into a spherical vessel. A very high ion density is created in a small core region at the center of the vessel, resulting in extremely high fusion power density in the core. Experiments at the U. of Illinois in small IEC devices (is less than 60 cm. dia.) demonstrated much of the basic physics underlying this concept, e.g. producing 10(exp 6) D-D neutrons/sec steady-state with deuterium gas flow injection. The ultimate goal is to increase the power densities by several orders of magnitude and to convert to D-He-3 injection. If successful, such an experiment would represent a milestone proof-of-principle device for eventual space power use. Further discussion of IEC physics and status are presented with a description of the overall propulsion system and estimated performance.
SPACECRAFT PROPULSION AND POWER
Vision 21 Conference; Mar 30, 1993 - Mar 31, 1993; Cleveland, OH; United States