You can view Stephanie Thomas’ talk from the 2017 NIAC symposium, “Fusion-Enabled Pluto Orbiter and Lander,” on NASA’s livestream link:
Her talk starts at timestamp 26:15 of the video. Her poster and slides are linked below:
The Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science is a private secondary school in Princeton New Jersey.
One of their students, Savva Morozov, undertook a project to build a miniature 2-axis sun sensor for a CubeSat. Here is his blog post!
My name is Savva, I’m a senior at Princeton Int’l School of Math & Science. This summer I designed, built and tested a 2-axis solar tracking sensor for Princeton Satellite Systems.
The sensor can determine the relative position of the sun using a set of photodiodes. Bearing in mind that the solar sensor would be used in vacuum environment, I decided to make the sensor out of printed circuit boards (PCBs) and solder them to each other. Originally, I wanted to 3D print the sensor, but shifted to the PCB solution to eliminate the risk of outgassing.
Picture 1: solar tracking sensor, 2nd prototype.
My solar sensor design resembles the shape of a square-based pyramid that is approximately the size of a quarter. It consists of 5 PCBs: 4 sides and a base to which the sides are attached. Each side contains a photodiode, and by measuring the voltage outputs from at least 2 of the diodes, the device can determine the sunlight’s direction.
One of the initial problems I encountered was the handling and attachment of the photocells to the side PCBs. Each cell came with an anode and cathode wires already soldered to its front and back. I desoldered the cathode wire from every cell and affixed them to the PCB using a space grade silver conductive epoxy. This way I attached the cell to the device and grounded its cathode at the same time. I thought I killed two birds with one stone, but instead I killed two photodiodes: they were damaged in the soldering process. I resolved the issue in the second prototype: I threaded the cathode wire into a hole in a side PCB and then glued the diode to that same board. This way I didn’t have to use soldering iron at all, preventing possible risks. I then connected the cathode of every photodiode to a common ground and outputted the voltage readings from each cell in a single data bus.
Picture 2: Solar sensor, 2nd prototype, quarter for scale.
The diode, being attached to the outer side of the satellite, might be exposed to light that is reflected off the Earth or satellite surfaces. To partially prevent this, I soldered a shield to the edge of the sensor. Each surface of the shield would be covered with non-reflective material to further decrease the amount of ambient light.
To protect the diodes from the impacts of micrometeoroids and other space debris, I plan to cover the diodes with a thin shield of hard glass crystalline window (tempered glass or sapphire).
Testing the first prototype indicated a number of drawbacks that were solved in the second. Such problems are attaching the shield and the cells to the device, decreasing sensor’s size while increasing its aperture, and making the assembly process simpler.
I also calibrated photocell’s voltage outputs and their exact positions to account for manufacturing imperfections and for those created during the manual assembly of the device. I wrote a program to calculate the vector of sunlight direction and using Processing IDE created a visual representation of my sensor as well as its output result:
Picture 3: Visual illustration of a working solar sensor.
In order for my sensor to survive the vacuum environment, I attempted to use only space qualified materials in the device’s assembly: PCBs, solder, epoxy, and sheets of copper. I have finished working on the development stage of designing the solar sensor. Testing procedures on my last prototype showed that such device would be ready for further usage and launch.
For everyone doing cutting edge work, here is a great quote from a pioneer in rotary wing aircraft:
Every very radical research needs an eccentric person who, by a certain amount of freedom from convention is not too afraid to go far afield for solutions.
Richard Whittle, “The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey,” Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2010, p. 20
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!
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!
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.
We are looking for an energetic, results-oriented person able to combine the responsibilities of financial manager and coordinator of back office operations, working part time (16-20 hours/week).
Responsibilities include but are not limited to:
A candidate must have financial education and a proven record of at least 3 years independently performing on a job with similar responsibilities, possession of skills in QuickBooks or a similar financial package along with MS Office. Excellent communication skills are anticipated.
Apress just published our new book, “MATLAB Machine Learning”
written by Michael Paluszek and Stephanie Thomas. The book covers a wide variety of topics related to machine learning including neural nets and decision trees. It also includes topics from automatic control including Kalman Filters and adaptive control. The book has many examples including autonomous driving, number identification and adaptive control of aircraft. Here is a view of a neural net tool included with the book.
Full source code is available. For more information go to MATLAB Machine Learning.
Princeton Satellite Systems was awarded its first patent in Japan, “Method to produce high specific impulse and moderate thrust from a fusion-powered rocket engine”. This technology was licensed from Princeton University’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. It is for a compact, low-neutron, nuclear fusion reactor that can be used as a rocket engine or as a power generator. The reactor can be built in sizes from 1 to 10 MW. A typical robotic spacecraft would use two engines. A human mission to Mars or the outer planet might use six 5 MW engines.
Here is the Japanese patent certificate.
Mike Paluszek of Princeton Systems, Sam Cohen of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and Charles Swanson also of PPPL attended the US – Japan Compact Toroid 2016 meeting in Irvine California this past August.
We presented papers related to Sam’s Princeton Field Reversed Configuration nuclear fusion reactor research program. Charles presented, “Extracting electron energy distributions from PFRC X-ray spectra,” Sam presented “Long pulse operation of the PFRC-2 device” and Mike presented, “Fusion-enabled Pluto orbiter and lander”.
Here are the workshop attendees.
It was fascinating to listen to all of the papers at the workshop! John Santarius, who has done cutting edge work on space propulsion and small fusion reactors presented his talk, “Aspects of Advanced Fuel FRC Fusion Reactors.” He gave a very informative overview of small fusion reactors and advanced fusion fuel technology. Thomas McGuire discussed the Lockheed Martin research on small reactors. There were several presentations by Tri-Alpha Energy scientists on their beam heated FRC.
We look forward to the next Compact Toroid Workshop!