DFD at the IEPC

Explosions. Orbits. Stuff hurtling through space at high speed. At the George Washington University campus last week, eyes young and old were trained on the screen, witnessing an amazing story of what can happen in space.

And no, it was not “Gravity”. Nothing against Ms. Bullock or Mr. Clooney, but the 33rd International Electric Propulsion Conference was the place to be last week. The IEPC showcased some fascinating new developments in electric propulsion, including some very promising work on plasma and fusion engines. MSNW gave a great overview of their Fusion Driven Rocket, Ad Astra showed off impressive experimental results of their VASIMR engine, and the University of Surrey presented a novel quad confinement thruster, to name a few.

We were happy to present our paper on the Direct Fusion Drive Rocket for Asteroid Deflection.

We focused on the following unavoidable dilemma: there are some “near-Earth” asteroids that are both small enough to avoid early detection and big enough to present a substantial risk. These asteroids would be about 50 m to 1,000 m in diameter, and it is a distinct possibility that, if we do detect one, we would have only a short time to do something about it.

In our paper, we designed optimal deflection maneuvers that use minimal delta-v to robustly avoid the Earth and an arbitrary keyhole region on the “b-Plane” at the time of the asteroid encounter. Using the 2029 encounter with Apophis as an example, we showed through numerical simulation that the DFD engine could reach the asteroid and deflect it with a maneuver that starts only one year in advance. We also discussed the self-coined “Star-Fleet Business Model” concept, which argues that future in-space operations will require a fleet of versatile spacecraft that are frequently being operated, maintained, and replaced.

We think this is another exciting application for DFD and fusion rockets in general, and we are not alone. Here is a picture of me with Dr. Peter Turchi at the reception. He was the founding president of the Electric Rocket Propulsion Society. This year he discussed how and why fusion rockets are needed for human exploration missions of the solar system.

And don’t worry. If there is an asteroid on its way to greet us, there should still be plenty of time to watch “Gravity”.

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