Sadly, the AIAA Space Forum in Orlando, FL was canceled due to hurricane Irma. So, we didn’t get to present our paper on our DFD mission to Pluto. AIAA has, however, published all the forum papers and is providing free access for a few months in lieu of the actual conference. This means anyone can download it!
Fusion-Enabled Pluto Orbiter and Lander paper:
Open access to the AIAA Space Forum technical program:
My name is Anna Cruz and I am Mechanical Engineering major and rising sophomore at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). This summer I was given the opportunity to work at Princeton Satellite Systems (PSS) as their engineering intern. The most recent project I have been working on is the mechanical design and 3D model of the sun sensor that will be made using a 3D printer. All the models I have created were done using SolidWorks. I have been working alongside my coworker Gary, and manager of the project Mike that have done a wonderful job in giving me helpful tips when I needed it the most.
This sun sensor will fly on a CubeSat or small spacecraft in low earth orbit. The main body of the sensor has a pyramid shape with a solar cell on each side. I had already been given a drawing and STEP file of the circuit board that will be attached to the sun sensor so the dimensions for the sensor I am making were based on that single part. To start, I did some research on different sun sensor models to get a sense of how they work. I first needed to figure out how these parts would be assembled. To make it simple, I decided to use 4 screws on each corner to attach the sensor to the circuit board. The base is rectangular with dimensions a bit larger than the circuit board to allow space for the screw clearance holes and room for the screw head as shown in figure 1.1.
Then it was time to design the pyramid itself. I created a pyramid with a flat top and placed it at the center leaving space from each edge of the pyramid to the edge of the rectangular base adjusting the dimensions as needed. The pyramid holds one solar cell on each side. To make sure that the cells fit nice and snug, I added a placeholder feature deep enough to hold the chip. However, after discovering that the solar cell did not have a flat surface and that there was a wire attached to the back and front of the chip, my original design had to change completely! After a few days of trying out new designs and working with Gary to find the best solution, we liked the idea of creating a trench like feature in the middle of the placeholder extruding a bit further into the pyramid. This will accommodate the wire from the back of the solar cell as well as increase the tolerance regarding the location of the wire for each chip. As for the wire coming out the front of the chip, I added a rectangular slot feature next to the placeholder which channels all the way down the pyramid shown in figure 1.2. This will help gather and guide both wires all the way down one channel to the circuit board. There is one channel on each side of the pyramid, a total of 4. Aside from these hollow channels, the entire pyramid is a solid piece.
The placeholder for the solar cell is deep enough so that nothing sticks out of the pyramidal faces. This will aid in the application of the glass window on top of each solar cell using a space qualified adhesive. The same adhesive will be used to attach the solar cells to their placeholders.
Because the sun sensor is attached to a spacecraft, there is a high change of reflective light bouncing off the spacecraft and onto the sensors. To prevent this, a lip feature around the pyramid needed to be added. I went along and added an extruded frame like feature surrounding the pyramid leaving a gap between the end of the frame and the end of the pyramid. The outside edge of this feature is perpendicular to the base surface. The inside edge is at about a 50 degree angle from the base surface as shown in the section view in figure 1.3.
Since this sun sensor will be used in space, the plan is to do a vacuum test of this part. As of right now, I am currently waiting on the entire part to be printed so that it could be tested. I am very excited to see the final product!
WHYY reporter Alan Yu has done a radio show featuring our work for The Pulse, which presents stories of health, science, and innovation. You can read the article and listen to a podcast of the show segment, which features Stephanie, Mike, Sam, and members of the NASA NIAC program including director Jason Derleth, external council member Ariel Waldman, and NIAC fellow Phil Lubin.
The headline for the show is, aptly, “Inside the NASA program that makes science fiction technology real.” Reporter Alan Yu visited the lab to see the PFRC in action during development of the show. The show played on the radio today, July 21, at 9 am and will repeat on Sunday at noon. Enjoy!
Version 2017.1 of Princeton Satellite Systems MATLAB toolbox suite is now available! Over 60 new functions were added and updates to dozens of existing functions were made to improve their performance and expand their applications.
In the Aircraft Control Toolbox we added an inlet loss function to compute losses due to shockwaves. Our Unscented Kalman Filter algorithm was updated.
We expanded our support for heliocentric missions. This includes functions to compute solar eclipses in heliocentric orbits, heliocentric sphere of influence, heliocentric trajectory plotting and thermal models for heliocentric spacecraft.
Several new component models were added for use with the CAD modeling functions. These included a liquid apogee Engine, curved tubes and triangular trusses.
We have added all new star identification functions. These are based on a pyramid star identification algorithm using four stars for a definitive match during lost-in-sky conditions. The algorithm provides reliable star identification with almost any star catalog and in any orientation. We have updated image processing algorithms for star centroid determination.
New attitude determination demos and algorithms were added for mixtures of different sensors, such as sun measurements, earth chords and magnetic field measurements. You can compare the performance of extended and Unscented Kalman Filters. A new second order guidance law was added for planetary and lunar landing that provides a simple and effective algorithm for landers.
Contact Princeton Satellite Systems or your distributor for more information!
June 30 is Asteroid Day. Asteroid Day is a reminder that we need to protect the Earth from asteroids. We need both an early warning system and a means for deflecting asteroids. The B612 Foundation is working on an early warning system. Direct Fusion Drive, a nuclear fusion rocket engine technology under development jointly by Princeton Satellite Systems and the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory could provide the means to deflect asteroids that are on a course to collide with the earth. We published a paper in October 2013 on how this might be done
Direct Fusion Drive Rocket for Asteroid Deflection [PDF], J. Mueller, Y. Razin, S. Cohen, A. Glasser, et al, 33rd International Electric Propulsion Conference.
Samuel Cohen, inventor of the Princeton Field Reversed Configuration reactor that is the core of our engine, co-authored a paper on comet deflection.
We are currently supported by a DOE grant, two NASA STTRs and a NASA Phase II NIAC grant! For more information go to our nuclear fusion page.
Dr. Sam Cohen and I had a good time at the Foundations of Interstellar Studies Workshop this week in NY! While we were only able to stay for the first day on “Energetic Reaction Engines”, there were many thoughtful discussions on applying fusion technology to interstellar travel. Here I am in the group photo from the welcome event Monday night, held at the Harvard Club with an interesting and wide-ranging display of interstellar art! (I’m in the first row on the far right).
Group photo from Foundations of Interstellar Studies workshop
The workshop was almost a mini-NIAC reunion, as NIAC fellows Phil Lubin and Ray Sedwick were there, and Heidi Fern was due to present her Mach Effect thruster on Thursday. Also NIAC External Council member Lou Friedman of the Planetary Society was in attendance (very back of the photo).
Our presentation for this conference focused on how the PFRC addresses the key parameters needed for a “net positive” fusion reactor: energy confinement, current drive, plasma heating, and plasma stability. We are often asked “why fusion will work this time”, and this paper does a good job of explaining why the PFRC is different enough from other approaches to work! The workshop is going to submit all of the papers to the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, which is the oldest astronautical journal in the world (1934).
We also discussed the parameters the propulsion system will need to achieve to reach Alpha Centauri in various time scales, as well as a more near-term mission deliver a gravitational lens telescope to 550 AU. Reaching Alpha Centauri in anything close to a human lifetime remains a significant challenge, but PFRC could be part of an architecture to reach the star in 300 to 500 years, and slow down enough to go into orbit around the potentially Earth-like planets there! The 550 AU telescope mission, however, could be achieved in as little as 12 years with just one small PFRC and is an exciting new mission possibility.
Our next interstellar appearance will be at the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop in October in Huntsville, AL!
We have been selected for two NASA STTRs on their new topic, T2.01-9960, Advanced Nuclear Propulsion! Our research institution partner is Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. Our proposals were featured in NASA’s official press release! Here is a quote:
High temperature superconducting coils for a future fusion reaction space engine. These coils are needed for the magnetic field that allows the engine to operate safely. Nuclear fusion reactions are what power our sun and other stars, and an engine based on this technology would revolutionize space flight.
You can read our project abstracts as posted on NASA’s SBIR website:
These Phase I STTRs of $125,000 each will run for one year, at which point we have the opportunity to propose Phase II work up to $750,000. If successful, they will go a long way towards demonstrating critical subsystem technology needed for DFD and other high-tech space propulsion technologies!
Mike Paluszek gave a talk on Saturday, June 3, 2017
Direct Fusion Drive – A Small Nuclear Fusion Rocket Engine for In-Space Propulsion
at Columbia University as part of the conference Dawn of Private Space Science 2017.
You can see the talk on Facebook Live.
A key feature of the NIAC program is making the project results available to the public. In that spirit, we are making our complete Phase I final report, “Fusion-Enabled Pluto Orbiter and Lander”, available on our website!
NIAC Phase I Final Report [PDF]
I’ve copied the executive summary below:
The Pluto orbiter mission proposed here is credible and exciting. The benefits to this and all outer-planet and interstellar-probe missions are difficult to overstate. The enabling technology, Direct Fusion Drive, is a unique fusion engine concept based on the Princeton Field-Reversed Configuration (PFRC) fusion reactor under development at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. The truly game-changing levels of thrust and power in a modestly sized package could integrate with our current launch infrastructure while radically expanding the science capability of these missions.
During this Phase I effort, we made great strides in modeling the engine efficiency, thrust, and specific impulse and analyzing feasible trajectories. Based on 2D fluid modeling of the fusion reactor’s outer stratum, its scrape-off-layer (SOL), we estimate achieving 2.5 to 5 N of thrust for each megawatt of fusion power, reaching a specific impulse, Isp, of about 10,000 s. Supporting this model are particle-in-cell calculations of energy transfer from the fusion products to the SOL electrons. Subsequently, this energy is transferred to the ions as they expand through the magnetic nozzle and beyond.
Our point solution for the Pluto mission now delivers 1000 kg of payload to Pluto orbit in 3.75 years using 7.5 N constant thrust. This could potentially be achieved with a single engine. The departure spiral from Earth orbit and insertion spiral to Pluto orbit require only a small portion of the total delta-V. Departing from low Earth orbit reduces mission cost while increasing available mission mass. The payload includes a lander, which utilizes a standard green propellant engine for the landing sequence. The lander has about 4 square meters of solar panels mounted on a gimbal that allows it to track the orbiter, which beams 30 to 50 kW of power using a 1080 nm laser. Optical communication provides dramatically high data rates back to Earth.
Our mass modeling investigations revealed that if current high-temperature superconductors are utilized at liquid nitrogen temperatures, they drive the mass of the engine, partly because of the shielding required to maintain their critical temperature. Second generation materials are thinner but the superconductor is a very thin layer deposited on a substrate with additional layers of metallic classing. Tremendous research is being performed on a variety of these superconducting materials, and new irradiation data is now available. This raises the possibility of operating near- future “high-temperature” superconductors at a moderately low temperature to dramatically reduce the amount of shielding required. At the same time, a first-generation space engine may require low-temperature superconductors, which are higher TRL and have been designed for space coils before (AMS-02 experiment for the ISS).
We performed detailed analysis of the startup system and thermal conversion system components. The ideal working fluid was determined to be a blend of Helium and Xenon. No significant problems were identified with these subsystems. For the RF system, we conceived of a new, more efficient design using state-of-the-art switch amplifiers, which have the potential for 100% efficiency.
This report presents details of our engine and trajectory analyses, mass modeling efforts, and updated vehicle designs.
Our paper “Direct Fusion Drive for Interstellar Exploration” has been accepted for the Workshop of Interstellar Flight that will be held at CUNY City Tech, 13-15 June 2017! The workshop is organized by the Institute for Interstellar Studies and City Tech’s Physics Department and Center for Theoretical Physics.
We will present the latest results from our NASA NIAC work on DFD design as well as applications to interstellar missions, including:
- A mission to 550 AU to perform gravitational lensing imaging of exoplanets;
- Flyby missions to the nearest star;
- A mission to go into orbit about a planet orbiting either Alpha-Centauri A or Alpha-Centauri B.